On Nov. 25, 2015, a federal jury awarded $25,000 in damages to Jesse Perez, who had sued guards for trashing his cell in retaliation for his lawsuit against the prison and for his stand against solitary confinement.
By filing the lawsuit, Perez wrote that he sought the “opportunity to shine a public light at trial and rein in what prisoner activists often endure in exercising their constitutional rights: the retaliatory abuse of the department’s disciplinary process by prison guards.”
Jesse Perez, 35, is from Colton in San Bernardino County and has been imprisoned since age 15. He was sent to the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay in December 2003 and was held there for 10 years. He took part in all three hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, protesting prolonged isolation.
Perez’s lawyer, Randall Lee, said the verdict sends “a resounding message that the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment are sacrosanct for all of us — even a prisoner in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay.”
Jesse Perez, 2nd from the left, with his legal team in his successful civil rights case about guards’ retaliation – Randall Lee, lead attorney, Jesse, Katie Moran, Matthew Benedetto
The case is based on Jesse Perez challenging the legitimacy of a CDCr gang validation pro se in 2005. He was assigned counsel after a state dismissal motion was
defeated and his winning a settlement. After his attorneys’ filed a Reply Brief, the CDCr reached out to him to settle the case, which he ultimately did in 2013. Perez received a monetary award as well as the right to have his gang affiliation reevaluated.
This is similar to the CDCr settling the Ashker case as the state of CA wants to avoid having to be held publicly accountable and to be subjected to scrutiny and interrogation in court.
In the current civil suit, his attorneys argued that guards retaliated against Perez for exercising his right to file a lawsuit and in response to successfully litigating human rights challenges – in this case the gang validation.
Perez argued that guards retaliated against him for exercising his right to file a lawsuit and in response to his successful litigating for his human rights and to overturn
his baseless gang validation.
During settlement negotiations in his initial lawsuit, which CDCr could anticipate would be successful for Perez and require a re-review of his ‘gang validation’, four officers forced Perez to strip, removed all of his legal paperwork, and trashed his cell. In the process, one officer stated, “you might have been able to win some money from us, but we will make sure that you stay [in solitary] where you belong.” Perez did not get all of his property back. He was later charged with a serious rules violation for “willfully obstructing the officers” during that search, for which he was ultimately found Not Guilty.
Jesse Perez states “As prisoner activists seeking to make positive contributions to the interest and human dignity of prisoners, we understand that the trappings of power enjoyed by guards represent the biggest obstacle to significant and lasting progress.”
By filing the lawsuit, Perez writes that he seeks the “opportunity to shine a public light at trial and rein-in what prisoner activists often endure in exercising their constitutional rights: the retaliatory abuse of the department’s disciplinary process by prison guards.”
In his testimony Jesse Perez stated that he filed this case to defend what minimal human rights he retains as a prisoner. He also said that the officers he is suing represent a backlash that prisoners commonly experience when they speak out to access their constitutional rights. Jesse wants to inform and empower the public, as the CDCr is unable to investigate and reform itself.
In Jesse’s testimony he made clear:
“Our system of law requires prisoners like me and many others to surrender our freedom, but our laws do not require us, and we refuse to, surrender our human dignity or the minimal constitutional rights that we retain even after crossing the prison gates.”
“So for me, we’re here because prison officials decided to punish me for exercising my constitutional right to file a lawsuit against their colleague…They unnecessarily confiscated important legal documents that I had. They trashed my cell. And then they wrote a false disciplinary report in order to keep me in solitary confinement.
“This cell was my whole world for the multiple years that I was in there. It’s the only space where I was able to experience the little bit of life that exists in solitary. They didn’t just take my stuff. They took the only possessions that I had. It’s all I had. So to me it was a huge deal.
“I think the officers’ actions also represent the sort of backlash that prisoners often have to hazard when speaking out or exercising their constitutional rights. So to me, we’re also here so that we can both inform and empower the public to deal with this continued corrupt course of conduct. Because in our reality, the CDCR seems incapable or unwilling to do so. So that’s why we’re here.”
Predictably, attorneys for the CDCr tried to discredit Perez’s testimony as well as that of other prisoners who testified in support of his argument.
Perez’s case is not the only instance of guards’ retaliation against prisoners for their basic expression of civil rights and political activism. Since August,
inmates at Pelican Bay state prison say they have been awoken every half-hour by prison guards in a practice that amounts to sleep deprivation. The policy is known as security and welfare checks, during which prison guards ‘check on inmates’ in segregated housing, including solitary confinement cells, every 30 minutes –48 times every day, to make sure they are “not injuring themselves or trying to kill themselves.”
Perez’s case is not the only recent instance of guards’ retaliation against prisoners for their basic expression of
civil rights and political activism.
Not coincidentally, these checks started in early August, as CDCr anticipated the prisoners’ victory landmark settlement in Ashker v Brown, which significantly reduced California’s ability to keep people in solitary confinement – and overturned a system of gang validation used to justify decades of isolation for hundreds of prisoners, often because of their organizing resistance to conditions and general political beliefs.
SF Chronicle: Inmate retaliated against by guards gets $25,000 in damages http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Inmate-retaliated-against-by-guards-gets-25-000-6659118.php