Two shocking videos depicting prison guards at Corcoran subduing mentally-ill inmates with pepper spray and batons are the subject of federal litigation aimed at ending such brutal corporal punishment. The videos are not available for sharing online, but they have been viewed in court, and the Sacramento Bee describes their content:
In the first video, played to a hushed crowd of lawyers and reporters in Karlton’s 15th-floor courtroom in downtown Sacramento, an inmate in a mental health crisis unit at Corcoran State Prison is shown refusing to take medication from a psychologist visiting him in his cell.
“He refused to take it,” the psychologist tells a waiting team of guards wearing gas masks, helmets, padded vests, gloves, protective jumpsuits and shin guards.
The inmate, locked in his cell, was playing with his feces and threatening to throw two cups of an unknown substance on anyone who entered. Almost immediately after the psychologist emerged, the team began pumping pepper spray through the food port of the metal cell door, repeatedly dousing the inmate between warnings that he better come out.
The team opened the door, dragging the inmate out and wrestling him to the floor as he alternately sobbed and screamed, “Don’t do this to me,” “help,” and “I don’t want to be executed.”
The motion focuses on Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment violations, including force against inmates manifesting symptoms of mental illness, excessive use of pepper spray and of expandable batons, and requests that the Court order CDCR to revise their use-of-force policies to provide training, quality and assurance processes.
As Bakersfield Now reports, things have not been looking good for the state in court:
In its response brief, CDCR argues that it has a comprehensive use-of-force policy, revised in 2010, that takes into account mentally ill inmates and includes appropriate training and discipline provisions. The brief also argues that the high standard for intervention under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) has not been met. The two videos, the defendants argue, do not demonstrate a "pattern or practice" of disproportionate force.
The state's own expert witness testified that guards use pepper spray far too often and in quantities that are too great. He also said previous recommendations for changes were rejected or ignored.
The Contra Costa Times quoted Michael Stainer, Director of CDCR's Division of Adult Institutions, who described the depicted incidents as "at best, controlled chaos."
Judge Karlton is to issue his decision in a few days.