With plaintiffs about to rest, the state prison system agreed before court began Tuesday to stop the trial and pay a mentally ill former inmate $950,000.
Jurors in the federal court trial in Sacramento said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made the right call to settle the case with Jermaine Padilla, the ex-prisoner.
Padilla’s videotaped cell extraction where prison officers repeatedly pepper sprayed him and then strapped him naked onto a gurney for 72 hours pretty much settled the matter in the jurors’ minds.
“They have to do their job, but the man wasn’t a dog,” juror Beth Pappalardo of Shingletown said afterward. “He was a human and he wasn’t angry. He was crying for help, and he didn’t get it.”
The brutal cell extraction at Corcoran State Prison on July 24, 2012, was ordered by Padilla’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ernest Wagner, when the inmate refused to take his psychotropic medications.
Imprisoned on a weapons charge, Padilla had a history of mental illness and had been placed in the Mental Health Crisis Bed unit at Corcoran State Prison a little more than three weeks before his cell extraction.
The video showed a psychologist first trying to talk Padilla into taking his medication. When the inmate did not respond, Wagner ordered he be medicated involuntarily.
Soon after the psychiatrist gave the order, prison staff emptied a 46-ounce pepper gas canister on the naked inmate, plaintiffs said. When Padilla still failed to back up to the food port in his cell to have his hands cuffed, the officers shot him with three more cans of spray.
Prison staffers then pulled him out of his cell and tied him down to the gurney. Padilla wound up spending 45 days in the Corcoran unit, despite recommendations in the prison system’s program guide that patients who don’t respond to treatment be transferred to an out-of-prison state hospital.
Lori Rifkin, lead attorney for Padilla, called the settlement “the right result.”
“It’s unfortunate, but it took three years of litigation and a jury trial to have the Department of Corrections do the right thing by a human being that is subjected to this kind of harm,” Rifkin said. “But I also think this jury trial was an opportunity for regular people, for citizens, to see what actually goes on inside the prisons and the absolute inhumanity of how real people are treated inside the prisons – real people that come back into our communities.”
Asked to comment, Jeffrey Callison, spokesman for the corrections department, said in an email, “Our settlement speaks for itself.”
Dan Stormer, co-counsel on the case with Rifkin, said the plaintiffs agreed to the settlement to get immediate housing, psychiatric treatment and other services for Padilla, who is out of custody and living in Ventura.
“You don’t get everything you might get from a jury, but you do get it now, and now is important to a person who needs those services,” Stormer said.
Another juror in the case, Amanda Gutierrez of Sacramento, characterized the video of Padilla’s cell extraction as “jaw-dropping.”
“Mental illness should be treated a little more patiently,” she said.