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Federal Court Again Orders California DOC to Remedy Continuing ADA Violations

The case had been on the court’s docket since 1994, when CDOC settled a similar case adversely affecting vulnerable prisoners by entering into a federal court-monitored consent decree. After renewed allegations of ADA violations, and injuries resulting therefrom, the parties entered into a new agreement, which requires regular reports by a court-appointed corrections expert.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor in 1994, when the original lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of “a class of all present and future California state prison inmates and parolees with certain disabilities, sued defendants, California state officials with responsibility for the operation of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the CDCR) and the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH), challenging the State’s treatment of disabled prisoners and parolees.”

That original injunction, “required CDCR Defendants to develop plans, policies, and procedures, including disability-grievance procedures, to ensure that their facilities and programs were compliant with the ADA and RA.” That injunction has been modified several times, including in 2001, with the entry of the Amended Remedial Plan of January 2001 (ARP), and again in 2007.

The most recent petition filed on behalf of class members centered on complaints about not only compliance, but also accountability issues. As noted by the court in its final order, it alleged that, “RJD staff were denying class members reasonable accommodations and were using excessive force against class members.”

Auditors and investigators sent by the state found horrific abuse, the court noted: “(Prisoner) interviewees reported, in relevant part, that RJD staff specifically targeted for abuse inmates with disabilities and other vulnerable inmates; that RJD staff hired inmates to assault other inmates; that RJD staff engaged in gang-like behavior; and that RJD staff retaliated against inmates who reported the abuse with further abuse or by making false allegations against them so that the inmates would be subjected to disciplinary action.”

Even the defendants’ own expert, Ken McGinnis, the court observed, admitted the presence of abuse: “there have been breakdowns and failures in the decisions of those involved in the [investigation and disciplinary] processes that have resulted in inappropriate outcomes.”

The court in its order reiterated that, “Plaintiffs request(ed) that (1) Defendants install additional surveillance cameras in all areas at RJD to which incarcerated people have access, including, but not limited to, all exercise yards, housing units, sally-ports, dining halls, program areas, and gyms, within ninety days; (2) CDCR adopt policies and procedures regarding the use of camera footage, including requirements that all footage be retained for a minimum of ninety days, that footage of use of force and other triggering events be retained indefinitely.”

The court further found that “body cameras are likely to improve investigations of misconduct by RJD staff and to reduce the incidence of violations of class members’ rights under the ARP and ADA. They are, therefore, necessary and should be deployed at RJD as soon as possible.”

The court concluded that defendant failed to follow ADA or RA requirements, had repeatedly violated court injunctions regarding those requirements, failed to comply with tracking and accountability guidelines, and excessively used pepper spray. It further issued timelines for compliance with all of its orders, and retained jurisdiction for further action. See: Armstrong v. Newsom, Case No. 94-cv-02307 CW, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.) 

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Related legal case

Armstrong v. Newsom