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California Jail Prisoner’s Broken Leg Nets $550,000 Settlement

by Matt Clarke

Nevada County, California and Correctional Medical Group Companies (CMGC) – now known as Wellpath – agreed to pay $550,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a former jail prisoner who alleged his leg was broken by a jailer in an incident involving excessive force.

Christopher Joshua Howie, then 41, was arrested and booked into the county jail in January 2018 after Grass Valley police found him standing on a highway drinking a beer, and determined that he was unable to care for himself.

According to court documents, as Deputy Adam Grizzell and police officer John Herrera escorted a handcuffed and compliant Howie through the pre-booking hallway, Grizzell slammed Howie’s head into a padded wall multiple times. When he turned and protested, Grizzell grabbed Howie’s handcuffs, which were behind his back, yanked his hands up toward his head and took him to the floor with his entire body weight on top of him. Howie felt his leg break. The incident was video-recorded by multiple surveillance cameras.

At least six other deputies came to the pre-booking hallway. Howie immediately requested medical attention for his pain, leg injury and inability to stand, but was ignored. Instead, the deputies added leg irons and a belly chain to his restraints and dragged him to the drunk tank, where he was dumped on his knees. About 90 minutes later, Howie received a medical examination by CMGC nurse Jessica Limme, who ignored his complaints about the broken leg and allegedly falsified documents stating he was well and had a steady gait.

Howie was moved between cells several times, dragged or assisted by deputies, which aggravated his injury. He was seen by at least two other CMGC nurses, who either ignored or minimized his injuries in medical documentation. About 20 hours after he was arrested, Howie was taken out the jail’s back door in a wheelchair, placed on a curb and left to fend for himself. He called a taxi to take him to a hospital, but couldn’t get into the vehicle. The taxi driver called an ambulance. At the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, X-rays showed Howie’s right leg was broken and severely displaced below the knee. He had to undergo corrective surgery.

Aided by Penn Valley attorney Patrick H. Dwyer, Howie filed a lawsuit against the county, jail personnel, CMGC, the nurses and Herrera. Despite continued denials that Grizzell had broken Howie’s leg, Nevada County and Wellpath agreed to settle the case in June 2019, and signed the settlement agreement – in which the county paid $300,000 and Wellpath paid $250,000 – on August 19, 2019.

The county also agreed to change policies at the jail to implement an excessive use of force policy similar to one in effect in Placer County as the result of a lawsuit, and to clarify that jail staff cannot override the decisions of on-site medical providers regarding the treatment of prisoners. See: Howie v. Nevada County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:18-cv-03146-JAM-KJN.

In the meantime, Deputy Grizzell, 25, was placed on paid administrative leave in June 2018 in an unrelated incident for slamming another handcuffed prisoner against a wall. He was charged with misdemeanor assault. 


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Related legal case

Howie v. Nevada County