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$15,700 Plus Boombox to Settle California Prisoner’s Excessive Force Claim

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to pay $15,700 plus a boombox to settle a prisoner’s excessive use of force claim.

The lawsuit, filed by state prisoner Tracye B. Washington, stemmed from events that occurred at Salinas Valley State Prison. Washington’s problems began on April 10, 2004, when he was told to pack his property to move to another unit. He was initially resistant but then agreed to comply.

Guards became impatient with how long it took him to pack, so they intervened and completed retrieving his property. Washington was handcuffed in front due to a physical disability and taken to the sally-port gate. Once in the sally-port, Sgt. E. Moore shoved him face-first into the fence and held him there. Other than a medical report at Washington’s request, no reports were written about the incident.

Two days later, Washington’s unit was on “cell-feeding” status. At the breakfast meal he asked guard C. Baez for some blankets because he had no bedding and his cell was cold. Baez responded that because it was a weekend, he could not get any blankets until the next day. When it was time to turn in the food tray, Washington again asked for a blanket, requested to see a supervisor and refused to return the tray when his requests were denied.

A few hours later, Baez and CDCR guards L. Hernandez, Zamora and Aguire approached Washington’s cell with their batons in hand. When the cell door opened, Hernandez rushed in and hit Washington in the mouth with his baton.

As the cell door was closing, Washington stuck his cane in the door, causing it to jam. The guards’ attempts to break the cane were initially unsuccessful, so they pepper sprayed Washington twice. He then complied with an order to strip and cuff up. Once cuffed, guard A. Gomez held onto the cuffs through the door’s “feed-port” and subsequently snatched the cuffs upwards and backwards, spinning Washington around and flinging him to the concrete floor face-first.

Washington filed suit in federal court, alleging Eighth Amendment violations for excessive use of force. The case settled on March 8, 2012 for $15,700 and a provision that Washington be given or allowed to purchase a boombox, which are no longer permitted under CDCR property rules. He was represented by attorneys Margaret Anne Keane and Sebastian L. Miller. See: Washington v. Duncan, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:05-cv-02775-WHA.

Washington later filed a motion seeking to enforce the settlement, as CDCR officials would not give him a boombox or let him buy one and have it “grandfathered in.”
However, in a September 18, 2012 order, the district court held that it no longer had jurisdiction over the case to enforce the settlement, and that Washington would have to file a breach of contract suit in state court if he wanted to contest the CDCR’s refusal to let him have a boombox pursuant to the settlement agreement.

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Related legal case

Washington v. Duncan