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CDCR sues to restore punishment for corrections officer who used tear gas on 2 inmates

In 2022, two inmates rushed to attack a third; of six COs who responded to the incident, only one CO threw a tear gas grenade at them


Photo/California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

By Andrew Sheeler
The Sacramento Bee

JAMESTOWN, Calif. — The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is suing the State Personnel Board, alleging that it “committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion” in overturning the department’s punishment of a prison guard last year.

The lawsuit stems from a January 2022 incident at Sierra Conservation Center, a CDCR facility in Jamestown.

During the incident, two inmates rushed to attack a third. Though the men ultimately never harmed the third inmate and proceeded to get down on the ground as ordered, one guard threw a tear gas grenade at them. Of six guards on the scene at the time of the incident, only that one officer responded with force.

In December of 2022, that officer was served a notice of adverse action, deducting 5% of his pay for a span of 12 paychecks “for allegations that he used unnecessary force on two inmates.”

CDCR spokeswoman Mary Xjimenez said that the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The officer appealed to the State Personnel Board in January of 2023. In July of that year, an administrative law judge ruled in his favor and awarded him back pay, benefits and interest for all money that had been seized.

The administrative law judge, Amy Friedman, wrote that the evidence showed that the officer’s use of force was unnecessary because the two inmates were backing away from the other inmates and were in the process of lying down.

“These conclusions, however, are drawn with the benefit of knowing how the incident played out, and after repeatedly viewing video footage of the incident that allows frame-by-frame playback, a fraction of a second at a time. Such exacting hindsight is not an appropriate measure for evaluating whether (the officer) failed to adhere to the use of force policy,” Friedman wrote.

CDCR in September 2023 petitioned for a rehearing but in November of that year, the petition was denied by the SPB.

According to the complaint, CDCR alleges that the personnel board abused its discretion in revoking the penalty.

“The order revoking the penalty is a patently abusive exercise of discretion by the SPB,” the complaint reads.

CDCR said that the administrative law judge’s findings were not supported by the facts of evidence.

The department is suing to overturn the SPB’s ruling.

SPB spokeswoman Camille Travis said that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Maintaining order involves more than just searching and counting inmates and performing inspections. It involves understanding your inmate population. The video below discusses the four Cs of inmate management.

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