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After Summary Judgment Denied, California Jail Officials Pay $55,000 for Breaking Detainee’s Arm

by Mark Wilson

On July 27, 2021, just 25 days after a federal court in California denied summary judgment to San Mateo County Jail guards on a detainee’s excessive force claims, county officials quickly paid him $55,000 for breaking his arm.

When the detainee, Oscar Tapia-Carmona, was booked into the county’s Maguire Correctional Facility on March 26, 2018, guards said he appeared manic, speaking rapidly and transitioning between English and Spanish. They suspected he was either under the influence of narcotics or having a psychotic episode.

The next day, after meeting with a mental health professional and telling guards he feared for his safety, Carmona was placed in protective custody. That evening he began banging on his cell door and yelling incoherently.

Guard Walter Daly then discovered that Carmona had been classified as a moderate suicide risk, requiring a move to different housing as well as use of a “Ferguson gown,” designed to prevent prisoners from hanging themselves. Carmona was lying on the floor brushing his teeth when guards went to his cell at about 1:30 a.m. on March 28, 2021.

Saying voices in his head told him the guards were trying to kill him, Carmona refused an order to exit the cell. Daly and two fellow guards, Jesse Ramirez and Derek Hudnall, then entered the cell. Daly grabbed Carmona’s left arm, Ramirez grabbed his right arm, and Hudnall grabbed his legs. They flipped him onto his stomach as Daly pinned his left shoulder. Carmona did not resist as guards twisted his left arm, but he asked them to stop because it hurt. Instead they exerted more force, breaking the limb.

Carmona claimed the guards also beat him, punching him in the stomach more than five times and slapping him in the face more than ten times. A nearby prisoner also recalled hearing Carmona yelling and what sounded like someone being hit in his cell.

After Ramirez and Daly got Carmona handcuffed and onto his stomach, guard Samuel Lehr entered the cell and began cutting off Carmona’s shirt to change him into a Ferguson gown. Carmona began yelling incoherently, violently thrashing about, kicking his legs and slamming his head onto the concrete floor. As guards then escorted the handcuffed detainee out of the cell and downstairs, he began kicking them and attempting to struggle out of their control before he was sedated and transported to a hospital for emergency surgery on his arm.

Carmona then filed suit pro se against ten “Doe” jail guards in federal court for the Northern District of California, which dismissed the complaint but appointed a guardian ad litem, Maria Isabel Tapia-Carmona. With the assistance of Oakland attorney John L. Burris and co-counsel K. Chike Odiwe from Burris’ eponymous firm, she filed an amended complaint against the county, Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, and several deputy jail guards, accusing them of using excessive force and also bringing California statutory and tort claim violation claims. The Court stayed the action and referred the parties to a settlement conference on April 6, 2020.

When those negotiations were unsuccessful, the court lifted the stay on November 3, 2020. Defendants then moved for summary judgment on March 12, 2021, and the motion was granted in part and denied in part on July 2, 2021.

Citing Smith v. City of Hemet, 394 F3d 689 (9th Cir. 2005) (en banc), the Court noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has instructed that an “excessive force inquiry nearly always requires a jury to sift through disputed factual contentions,” so therefore “summary judgment or judgment as a matter of law in excessive force cases should be granted sparingly.” It then found that genuine disputes of material fact precluded summary judgment on Carmona’s excessive force claim and set trial for August 20, 2021. See: Carmona v. Cty. of San Mateo, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124471 (N.D. Cal.).

A second settlement conference was then held on July 26, 2021, and the parties entered an agreement the next day, paying Carmona $55,000 to resolve all claims, including costs and attorney’s fees. See: Carmona v. County of Mateo, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:18-cv-05232. 

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Related legal case

Carmona v. Cty. of San Mateo