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$60,000 for Nevada Prisoner Forced to Remove His Own Teeth

Michael Sanzo, formerly incarcerated at the High Desert State Prison near Indian Springs, Nevada, received a $60,000 settlement as a result of “unbearable pain” that forced him to remove six of his own teeth after he was denied timely dental care.

Sanzo, who served five years after pleading guilty to possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of a controlled substance, was placed in solitary confinement for his involvement in an April 2012 fight in the prison yard. Several of his teeth were damaged during that altercation and he sought treatment from medical staff.

He sent a “kite” in July 2012 in which he stated, “4 of my bottom teeth are ready to fall out – they are like ‘weeble wobbles.’ I can’t eat barley and I’m in bad pain – please hurry, I need them pulled.” He was told by dental assistant Colette Ball, “When your name comes up on the list we’ll see you.” Three months later he wrote again, saying, “I have had to cry myself to sleep in such pain! I have had to pull 6 of my own teeth cause the pain is soooo unbearable. It’s been 3 months now – please help me.” However, he still received no treatment.

Reno attorney Luke Busby took Sanzo’s case even though he had never handled an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim. In the complaint, Busby alleged that “[d]ue to the unbearable pain that the plaintiff endured, despite his repeated and desperate cries for help, the plaintiff was forced to smash out his teeth by punching himself in the face, other macabre means, and pulling the teeth out.” Sanzo smuggled his removed teeth out of the prison to use as evidence in his case.

Although he had initially requested over $1 million, Sanzo eventually settled with prison officials, including Colette Ball and guards Joon Lee and Giovanni Capra, and the case was dismissed as part of the $60,000 settlement in March 2016. See: Sanzo v. Cox, U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 3:14-cv-00030-RCJ-WGC.

Sanzo was released from custody about the same time as the settlement, but has since been arrested on an unrelated charge and re-incarcerated. 



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Related legal case

Sanzo v. Cox