Mentally ill inmates seek punitive damages to change state prisons

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 12.44.23 PMFor 22 years, the federal court in Sacramento has pounded the California Department of Corrections with orders and injunctions and slapped it with sanctions to get the state prison system to clean up its mental health treatment mess.

Now, attorneys for mentally ill inmates are trying for another attention getter: punitive damages.

In a trial underway in front of U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, plaintiffs want a jury to find nine corrections department employees liable for malice and oppression to rectify abuses they say their client suffered during a brutal 2012 cell extraction.

Along with general damages, the attorneys say a punitive award would send a message to the prison system and its staff on how to carry out the best practices – and avoid the worst – when inmates have full-blown psychotic breakdowns.

“Since at least 1995, CDCR officials, medical providers, and custody officers have been on notice that the Constitution requires prisons to provide incarcerated persons with necessary mental health care and to treat prisoners in a humane manner that does not punish them for mental illness,” plaintiffs lawyer Lori Rifkin wrote in her trial brief.

Rifkin said the videotaped 2012 cell extraction of her client, Jermaine Padilla, who was seen being pepper sprayed and dragged out screaming and strapped naked to a gurney for 72 hours, demonstrated that “almost two decades later, CDCR had still failed to correct these constitutional deprivations.”

“As a result of Defendants’ actions, Plaintiff’s ability to recover from mental health crises and actively participate in mental health treatment has been severely damaged,” Rifkin wrote. “Defendants compromised his ability to trust medical help, exacerbated and confirmed his worst fears as well as his paranoia and anxiety about others being out to hurt him, and left him in a state of decompensation for weeks and months such that it caused long-term damage to his brain.”

Padilla’s lawyers say prison doctors waited too long to involuntarily medicate him and that he should have been moved to a state mental hospital long before his eventual transfer.

Corrections lawyers confirmed in their court papers that in the weeks before his cell extraction from the Mental Health Crisis Bed unit at Corcoran State Prison, Padilla had stopped taking his medications. They also acknowledged that on the day of his July 24, 2012, removal, Padilla had flooded his cell with water and had smeared himself with and eaten his own feces. They also admitted that officers blasted Padilla with pepper spray from a 46-ounce container through the food port of his cell and hit him with the contents of three more 12-ounce canisters.

Then, after subduing Padilla, officers tied him down on a gurney for 72 hours, as ordered by his psychiatrist, Dr. Ernest Wagner, state attorneys said. Read the full article here…