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$33,000 Settlement For Pro Se Arizona Prisoner Assaulted by Guard

In October 2019, Arizona settled for $33,000 a pro se federal lawsuit brought by a state prisoner who alleged he was assaulted by an Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) guard while handcuffed behind his back.

According to court documents, DOC prisoner Shawn Michael Folta was incarcerated at the ASPC-Eyman Complex/SMU 1 Unit when guard Dustin Burke delivered a food tray to his cell that was missing its broccoli portion. Folta requested another tray, Burke refused and a heated verbal altercation ensued in which Burke allegedly threatened to “fuck him up.”

Folta asked to see a sergeant and Burke later returned to his cell, allegedly to escort him to the sergeant. After handcuffing Folta behind his back, Burke led him to a blind spot not covered by surveillance cameras where he allegedly attacked Folta from behind, kneed him in the face when Folta was on his knees while asking, “Who’s the punk now?” He slammed Folta’s head into a steel dinner cart, and punched him while he was on the ground.

Burke wrote Folta a disciplinary report for assaulting him. Folta complained that he did not assault Burke but rather was assaulted by the guard. A report of a staff assault investigation by the DOC’s Office of Inspector General listed Folta as the suspect and Burke as the victim before summarizing that Folta assaulted Burke and stating that no one witnessed the assault, and no one except other prisoners witnessed the heated verbal altercation between them (despite at least three other guards being nearby in the housing area). When interviewed, the other guards denied any knowledge of what took place. The investigator did note that there was no discoloration on Burke’s jaw where Folta had allegedly head butted him, which allegedly required medical attention at a hospital two days earlier.

Folta filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment when Burke assaulted him. He also alleged injuries, including permanent scarring, a bruised right kidney, a right eyebrow cut requiring stitches, a bruised left side of the face, bruised and scraped knees and bruised wrists. He submitted photographs and a hospital report to support his claims. He also alleged that guard Richard Basso and Sergeant Russell Contreras failed to stop the assault.

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Related legal case

Folta v. Van Winkle