Thursday, December 31, 1998

CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS SETTLES CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of an inmate who was fatally shot by a correctional officer during a yard disturbance in 1994. The estate of Mark Adams, Adams’ widow and mother, and their attorney John Houston Scott will share the $2.5 million settlement award.

"We were shocked by the jury’s punitive damage award at such an outrageous level and believe that it was inappropriately awarded," said CDC’s Chief Counsel, Pam Smith-Steward. "The individuals named in this suit were unfairly blamed for the violence that inevitably erupts in a prison setting. In this case, Adams, a convicted murderer and prison escapee, attacked another inmate on the San Quentin yard. He ignored all orders to desist and two warning shots. We do not feel that the taxpayers should pay when officers responded appropriately to inmate-on-inmate violence.

In announcing this settlement, Smith-Steward emphasized that the agreement to pay the plaintiffs grew from a desire to save the California taxpayers the risk of additional legal fees required to appeal the judgment or to retry the case in the event that the defendants’ motion for a new trial was granted.

Mark Adams killed a young member of a respected Modesto family with strong ties to law enforcement in a botched robbery attempt on August 17, 1979. He was convicted of murder and robbery in 1982.

On November 30, 1998, a jury in federal court in San Francisco awarded Adam’s estate, his widow and mothers a total of $2.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages for the fatal shooting. In addition, plaintiffs’ counsel would have claimed more than $1 million in legal fees from the state.

"The two Corrections officials who received punitive damage awards were holding tough jobs," said CDC Director C.A. Terhune. "Very few, if any, employees of other organizations face such difficult situations. These punitive damages have a profound effect on attracting and retaining high-caliber and high-talented corrections individuals. Unfortunately, appeals and other legal attempts to vindicate the honor of the Corrections officials named as defendants will only cost the taxpayers more money over several more years of litigation—for an uncertain result. Since two of them faced personal liability for punitive damages, we and the Office of the Attorney General also felt that a settlement was in the best interests of the state and was reasonable."