Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

California: Orange County Settles Suit Over Jail Detainee’s Death for $2.1 Million

by Mike Brodheim

In April 2011, the family of a detainee who died while being restrained by Orange County jail guards agreed to settle a lawsuit against the county for $2.1 million.

The April 1, 2008 death of prisoner Jason Jesus Gomez, 35, was not an isolated incident; it resulted, at least in part, from a culture at the jail that condoned the use of force against prisoners who were already restrained. That culture, which led to the injury or deaths of other detainees who, like Gomez, were Tasered while handcuffed or otherwise immobilized, was the legacy of disgraced ex-sheriff Mike Carona, who is now serving a federal prison sentence for witness tampering. [See: PLN, Feb. 2009, p.1; Nov. 2009, p.38; July 2011, p.49].

If there is a silver lining in this case it is that the deaths of Gomez and other jail prisoners may have produced much-needed reforms. For one, the use of Tasers against detainees who are already restrained is now expressly prohibited in Orange County jails. For another, there is a new sheriff in town, Sandra Hutchens, who received praise from the Gomez family’s attorney, Jerry Steering, for “attempting to reform the culture of violence and cruelty practiced by jail deputies” when Carona was in charge.

Still, Gomez’s death was a needless tragedy. He was serving 90 days for a misdemeanor probation violation. Not having received his psychotropic medication for five days, he was transferred to the jail’s psychiatric unit for evaluation. There, he broke a nurse’s arm.
That led to deputies trying to place him in a straitjacket. Gomez resisted; according to news reports, he “fought and spat at deputies, biting one jailer on the finger.”

The deputies, of course, fought back. They succeeded in handcuffing Gomez, then placed him in leg irons and a wheelchair used to restrain unruly prisoners, fitted him with a spit mask and shocked him with a Taser.

Unfortunately, somewhere during that process, something went horribly wrong. One of the guards, evidently, kept pushing Gomez’s head down. According to Steering, Gomez repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe; the guards responded, “If you can talk, you can breathe.”

Then Gomez stopped talking – and breathing – resulting in a coma, his being placed on life support and his subsequent death. See: Lares v. County of Orange, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 8:09-cv-00945-DOC-MLG.

Sources:, Orange County Register

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Lares v. County of Orange