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

$2.6 Million Jury Award for Prisoner Beaten in Los Angeles County Detox Cell

by Matt Clarke

On June 13, 2012, a federal jury awarded over $2.6 million to a man who was brutally assaulted by another prisoner while being held in a detoxification cell in a West Hollywood, California jail.

Jonathon Michael Castro was arrested late one evening for public drunkenness by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies. He was placed in a West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station detoxification (detox) cell. Later that evening, Jonathan Gonzalez was arrested by LASD deputies for public drunkenness and vandalism, and placed in the same cell. Gonzalez had been uncooperative and exhibited aggressive behavior as soon as he was put in the detox cell with Castro.

According to court documents, during the next several hours Sergeant David Valentine and Custody Assistant Christopher Solomon failed to maintain observation of the cell, leaving Castro and Gonzalez unobserved for as long as 40 minutes at a stretch. Gonzalez savagely beat Castro during one of those unobserved periods, causing severe injuries. The lengthy beating was finally noticed when Solomon observed Castro on the floor of the detox cell and Gonzalez stomping on his head. The stomping was repeated at least three more times before Solomon entered the cell and stopped the assault.

Castro was in respiratory failure when he arrived at a local hospital. An emergency tracheotomy was performed, and he was placed on a ventilator. He remained in a coma for ten days.

Castro’s injuries included maxillary and pterygoid sinus fractures, an alveolar ridge fracture and a left mandible fracture. Multiple facial surgeries were performed and his jaw was wired shut. More ominously, he suffered a diffuse axonal injury – a brain injury caused by shearing forces when the brain is rapidly accelerated or decelerated. Released after more than a month in the hospital, Castro still suffers from cognitive difficulties which require ongoing therapy due to his injuries.

Aided by West Hollywood attorney Maria Cavalluzzi, Castro filed a civil rights suit in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Following a trial in June 2012, the jury found that Valentine and Solomon knew of a substantial risk of harm to Castro and were deliberately indifferent to that risk, which proximately caused his injuries. The jury also found that Valentine failed to properly supervise Solomon and that the LASD had a longstanding custom or practice of deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of harm in the detox cell.

The jury awarded Castro $50,000 for past loss of earnings, $945,632.02 for past medical expenses, $360,000 for future loss of earnings and lost earnings capacity, $600,000 for future medical expenses, and $650,000 for physical pain and suffering. Additionally, the parties stipulated to $12,000 in punitive damages against Valentine and $6,000 in punitive damages against Solomon, for a total of $2,623,632.02.

As the prevailing party in a § 1983 action, Castro was also entitled to recover attorney fees. On July 24, 2012 the district court awarded $800,000 in fees and $50,000 in costs to Castro’s counsel, based on a stipulation by the parties. An additional $40,000 in attorney fees was awarded on September 21, 2012.

The defendants, including the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, have since appealed the jury verdict to the Ninth Circuit; their appeal remains pending. See: Castro v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:10-cv-05425-DSF-JEM.

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

Castro v. County of Los Angeles