Thursday, November 23, 2017     Volume: 18, Issue: 38
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 9th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 36

Attorney claims youth client was beaten in Juvenile Hall lock-up

By SPENCER COLE

On Jan. 23, 2016, detainees at the Susan J. Gionfriddo Juvenile Justice Center in Santa Maria beat Paul Purter III while in lockup.

The attack was brutal. More than once, Purter was kicked in the chest, head, and face.


FAILURE TO PROTECT
Santa Barbara County is the target of a lawsuit after a juvenile detainee was attacked by fellow inmates and suffered permanent eye damage while in lockup at the county’s juvenile hall in Santa Maria.
PHOTO BY JOE PAYNE

He suffered permanent optic nerve damage to his right eye and a contusion to his eye orbital tissues. During the days following the assault, he experienced migraines and blurred vision. In the coming months, Purter would need additional medical treatment for his eye, migraines, severe depression, mental and physical anxiety, as well as nightmares and insomnia.

Purter’s attorney, Kenneth Yeager, alleges that Santa Barbara County staff on duty at the Juvenile Center allowed the attack to occur and that they waited too long to break it up.

This is the crux of Yeager’s argument in a current civil case against Santa Barbara County: His client’s civil rights were violated. The lawsuit also accuses county staff of negligence.

Yeager filed a claim with the county seeking damages, which was denied on July 13, 2016, after a review by the Board of Supervisors, according to court documents.

The attorneys representing Santa Barbara County are contesting Yeager’s claims, and according to court documents, have not conceded that Purter was even injured.

In an email to Yeager on Nov. 14, 2016, Julius Abanise, the county’s deputy counsel, cited California Government Code 844.6, or “prisoner immunity provision,” as a reason to dismiss the lawsuit.

“Basically, public entities are immune from liability for injuries to any prisoner, including those caused by other prisoners,” Abanise wrote.

Yeager responded in an amended complaint to the court that the same section of code also states “a public employee is liable for injuries proximately caused by his negligent or wrongful act of omission.” His claim argued that county staff on duty the night of the incident allowed juvenile detainees to be unsupervised during lockup and that by doing so “intentionally refused, failed, and willfully did not conform with proper protocol, policy, or routine.”

The complaint further alleges that county staff’s conduct deprived Purter of his rights under the 14th Amendment and the California Constitution—“rights not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, and the right to equal protection under the law.”

The county contends that if Purter sustained any injuries, it was caused by his own negligence and “a failure to use reasonable diligence.” Moreover, its attorneys argue that staff did not deny the minor of “any clearly established right, privilege, or immunity guaranteed by the constitution or laws of the United States.”

Michael Ghizzoni, the county counsel leading the case, told the Sun on Nov. 7 of this year that it was policy to not comment on ongoing legal matters.

Both Yeager and the Santa Barbara County Probation Department did not return requests seeking comment.

Lt. Kevin Huddle with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office told the Sun he would only be able to comment on cases the office was actively investigating.

“And to my knowledge, we are not investigating that,” he said.

Yeager is seeking a jury trial, where he hopes to win for his client compensatory and general damages, special damages for past and future medical expenses, and punitive and exemplary damages against county staff and the alleged assailants.

The county is disputing all of Yeager’s claims and seeking an award for its attorney fees and any other relief “as the court may deem just and proper.”

A trial date has yet to be set and the only firm date scheduled currently is a case management conference on Jan. 24, 2018, in front of Judge Jed Beebe in the Cook Division of Santa Barbara Superior Court in Santa Maria.

Staff Writer Spencer Cole can be reached at scole@santamariasun.com.




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