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

Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss Suit Filed by Widow of Workplace-Harassed Prison Guard

California state prison guard Scott Jones committed suicide in 2011, leaving a note that said, “the job made me do it.” His wife, Janelle Jones, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and four prison officials, and thus far has successfully defeated multiple efforts by the defendants to have her complaint dismissed.

Scott Jones had been assigned to work in Z-unit at the CDCR’s High Desert State Prison, “[a] stand-alone administrative segregation unit housing the most dangerous inmates,” according to the complaint. The lawsuit also alleged that one of his duties “was to disclose information regarding the wrongful and unlawful conduct of correctional peace officers.”

Jones suffered various harassing actions by his fellow prison guards, which resulted in an injury to his knee during horseplay and included being pepper-sprayed in the face after filing “several complaints regarding working conditions” and “numerous complaints of safety violations....” His coworkers apparently resented those complaints, and according to his widow’s subsequent lawsuit Jones was “falsely accused of misconduct,” such as tampering with prisoners’ mail, and threatened with disciplinary action on several occasions.

As a direct result of this pattern of harassment, Jones sought treatment for anxiety and depression, for which he was prescribed medication. He also notified the CDCR’s whistleblower hotline, and was transferred from Z-unit to the A-yard to handle prisoner mail; according to the complaint, he “experienced heightened scrutiny as to his job duties, especially as to the delivery of inmates’ mail.”

The harassment by his superiors continued. Jones was accused of “taking inmates down ... and beating the shit out of them ... repeatedly confronted by another officer,” and subjected to a “meritless investigation into alleged use of excessive force.” He told his wife that he was “extremely distraught,” and took his own life shortly thereafter.

His widow’s complaint alleged that Jones had a First Amendment right to be free from harassment and retaliation, and that the defendants’ actions had deprived her of her husband’s companionship and support. Further, Jones’ superiors were accused of failing to properly train and supervise guards at the facility where he was harassed.

The defendants filed a motion for judgment, and on March 27, 2015 the district court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. The court allowed Janelle Jones’ First Amendment claims to proceed, but granted qualified immunity as to her Fourteenth Amendment claim and dismissed another claim with leave to amend.

The defendants then filed a motion to dismiss on April 29, 2015, and in January 2016 the district court granted in part and denied in part the motion, dismissing two more claims and denying leave to amend. The case remains pending. See: Jones v. Cate, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 1:12-cv-02181-TLN-CKD.

Additional source:

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

Jones v. Cate