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$10,000 Awarded by Nevada Federal Court to Prisoner Assaulted by Former State Prison Guard

by Matt Clarke

On June 23, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada awarded a former state prisoner $5,000 for physical pain and another $5,000 for mental anguish caused by an unprovoked beating he received from a guard while shackled at Southern Desert Correctional Center (SDCC) nearly 13 years earlier.

In 2008, Michael E. Clark was a prisoner who was shackled and waiting in line to be seen by a medical professional at SDCC when he began to lose his balance. Guard Adrian Guerrero ordered him to stand up straight, then tackled Clark and started beating him. After the incident, Clark was placed in administrative segregation for several months.

Clark then filed a pro se lawsuit against Guerrero, which was removed to federal court, where he was represented by Las Vegas attorney Telia U. Williams. The only claim that survived screening was one for use of excessive force against Guerrero.

In 2013, Guerrero’s attorney withdrew, and the judge ordered the defendant to notify the court whether he would obtain new counsel or proceed pro se. Guerrero ignored the order and ceased participation in the case.

In due course, the court entered a default judgment against him, but it awarded Clark only $1 in nominal damages. Clark appealed the damage award.

The Ninth Circuit held the court erred in awarding nominal damages without a hearing and ordered the district court to conduct one. See: Clark v. Guerrero, 695 Fed. App’x. 256 (9th Cir. 2017).

On remand, the district court located pro bono counsel for Guerrero, but that counsel withdrew just before the hearing. Clark testified at the hearing, but he did not provide much documentation of how much he had spent on medical treatment and physical therapy or what his prognosis was.

His testimony indicated he had gone to physical therapy more than 40 times, was taking oxycodone four times a day for pain due to the injuries he suffered, and was unable to work. However, he also provided no documentation of how much he made in wages prior to his imprisonment.

The court held that Clark had proven he was entitled to compensatory damages, but not lost wages, and not in the amounts he had requested—$1 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages.

Comparing this case with others compensating prisoners who had been beaten while restrained, the court decided to award Clark compensatory damages of $5,000 for physical pain and $5,000 for mental anguish. The court did not award any punitive damages. See: Clark v. Guerrero, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117107 (D. Nev.). 

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Related legal cases

Clark v. Guerrero

Clark v. Guerrero