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$175,000 Paid by California County to Escaped Prisoner Mauled By K-9 During Recapture

by Keith Sanders

On September 21, 2021, an agreement was fully executed by California’s Merced County agreeing to pay $175,000 to a state prisoner who was mauled by a county K-9 when recaptured after an escape.

While held at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, minimum-security prisoner Zechariah Lee walked away on February 7, 2019. Two days later, deputies from the Merced County Sheriff’s Office caught up with him as he attempted to flee in a truck. Deputy Nasir Wali smashed out the truck’s window and yanked Lee from the vehicle, deploying a Taser on Lee until he fell to the ground. There he lay limply when Deputy Damien Sparks allegedly released a K-9 German Shepard that bit Lee on the shoulder and locked its jaws on the prisoner’s neck. Lee suffered significant upper body injuries as a result of the attack.

After filing a complaint pro se in federal court for the Eastern District of California in July 2019, Lee then picked up representation from attorneys Benjamin J. Meiselas and Dev Deep Das of Geragos & Geragos APC in Los Angeles. On his behalf, they filed an amended complaint in December 2020 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming the deputies “brutally attacked [Lee] with unnecessary, uncalled for, and excessive force” after he tried to “peacefully surrender himself.” That, the suit contended, constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Lee’s Eighth Amendment rights.

The suit also asserted a claim against Merced County for improperly training and supervising its agents, as provided under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Specifically, Merced County allegedly allowed a “custom and practice” to develop that involved (1) using “infirm” excessive force on escapees as a form of “deterrence;” (2) using K-9 units as part of that practice; and (3) intentionally “blocking bodycam footages of excessive force incidents... to thwart transparency in connection with public records.”

Trial was set for July 26, 2022. But the parties first reached their settlement agreement, which included costs and fees for Lee’s attorneys. The Court dismissed the case on October 26, 2021. See: Lee v. Landrum, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 206815 (E.D. Cal.). 

Additional source: Merced News

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