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California County Settles Failure to Protect Lawsuit for $90,000

by Dale Chappell

Contra Costa County has settled a lawsuit filed in federal court by Suneel Kumar, agreeing to pay him $90,000 after guards at the county jail allowed another prisoner to attack him while he was performing his job duties within the facility, and failed to intervene before he was severely injured.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claimed that on February 23, 2018, guards let Kumar out of his cell in the segregation unit to prepare dinner and to tend to his job as the unit orderly. While he was working, guards also released a prisoner identified in court papers as “JC,” who attacked and beat Kumar until he had broken bones and internal injuries. The injuries were severe enough to require surgery, and he has permanent damage as a result.

The incident occurred, Kumar said, because the prisoner who was released at the same time he was out of his cell was “incompatible” with him, meaning they were supposed to be kept separate. Kumar was being held in protective custody in the segregation unit at the time. The attack, which lasted five minutes, was not stopped by staff, Kumar said; in fact, no staff member ever intervened.

Deputy Pickett was accused of being negligent when she failed to remain at her assigned post to watch over Kumar, among other reasons. Kumar further claimed jail staff violated his constitutional rights by “creating a risk of harm that would not have otherwise existed when [they] released JC before determining whether [Kumar] had returned to his cell.”

He also argued the guards violated his rights by “failing to respond in a prompt and effective manner when the attack” occurred. All of this, he said, was in violation of jail policy, and guards and other staff were “deliberately indifferent” to his needs before, during and after the attack.

His lawsuit asked for unspecified compensatory damages, as well as “punitive damages to make an example of and to punish” jail staff.

On June 3, 2019, the county agreed to settle the lawsuit for $90,000, from which Kumar would have to pay his attorney’s fees plus expenses. In the agreement, the county denied any wrongdoing regarding the attack on Kumar at the jail. See: Kumar v. County of Contra Costa, U.S.D.C. (D.C. Cal.), Case No. 4:19-cv-00029-DMR.

Kumar’s lawsuit was similar to one filed in June 2019 by prisoner Jearhamel Fanaro, who alleged that two unnamed guards at the Martinez Detention Facility in Contra Costa County stood as lookouts while several gang members attacked him for at least 15 minutes. 


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Related legal case

Kumar v. County of Contra Costa