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$950,000 Settles Mistreatment of Mentally Ill Prisoner

by Derek Gilna

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by former prisoner Jermaine Padilla after prison staff physically abused him while he was having a mental health crisis. On April 25, 2017, the CDCR agreed to a $950,000 settlement shortly after Padilla’s attorneys completed the presentation of their case at a jury trial.

Graphic video footage of Padilla’s forcible extraction from his cell in the Mental Health Crisis Bed unit at Corcoran State Prison in July 2012 after he refused to take his psychotropic medications – during which he was pepper-sprayed, strapped naked to a restraint chair and left to soil himself in the chair for 72 hours – apparently convinced the CDCR to not risk having the case go to the jury.

According to juror Beth Pappalardo, “They [guards] have to do their job, but the man wasn’t a dog. He was a human and he wasn’t angry. He was crying for help, and he didn’t get it.” Another juror, Amanda Gutierrez, said the video of the cell extraction was “jaw-dropping.”

Padilla had a long history of mental health problems prior to his incarceration. The complaint filed by his attorneys noted the CDCR had diagnosed him “with serious mental illness at the Enhanced Outpatient (EOP) or higher level of care.” He was held at both the Corcoran prison and the Salinas Valley Psychiatric Program from May 2012 to February 2013.

According to treatment notes at Salinas, “Mr. Padilla was observed to be psychotic and gravely disabled ... he had smeared feces, peanut butter, and food remains upon a dried puddle of urine, and was lying naked on the cell floor. The nursing care record states that his mental health was continuing to decline.”

Nonetheless, “Defendants’ staff still failed to refer Mr. Padilla to a higher level of mental health treatment, eleven days after the maximum stay permitted by policy,” the complaint stated. The forcible cell extraction was reportedly ordered by prison psychiatrist Ernest Wagner.

Padilla alleged four claims, including unreasonable and excessive use of force, failure to provide adequate medical and mental health treatment, failure to protect him from harm and failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

“It’s unfortunate, but it took three years of litigation and a jury trial to have the Department of Corrections do the right thing by a human being that is subjected to this kind of harm,” said Lori Rifkin, the lead attorney who represented Padilla. “But I also think this jury trial was an opportunity for regular people, for citizens, to see what actually goes on inside the prisons and the absolute inhumanity of how real people are treated inside the prisons – real people that come back into our communities.”

Padilla, who has since been released, currently resides in Ventura, California and requires housing, psychiatric treatment and other services that will be funded by the settlement, according to Dan Stormer, who co-counseled the case with Rifkin.

Final approval of the settlement agreement by the district court remained pending as of early November 2017. See: Padilla v. Beard, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:14-cv-01118-KJM-CKD. 

Additional source: Sacramento Bee


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Related legal case

Padilla v. Beard