New Lawsuit Filed Against Monterey County Jail Deputies for Breaking Woman’s Leg
On October 12, 2023, the civil rights lawyers at the Piccuta Law Group, LLP filed a new federal lawsuit. The lawsuit is for civil rights violations. Specifically, the lawsuit contains claims that jail deputies violated the client’s right to be free from excessive force and free from cruel and unusual punishment.
The Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The case is entitled Diggs v. County of Monterey, Et Al. The case was designated case # 5:23-CV-05231. The case was assigned to the honorable judge Nathaniel M. Cousins.
Summary of the Civil Rights Claims
The lawsuit alleges that the firm’s client was the victim of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Notably, it alleges that several jail deputies planned a cell extraction of the client who was in custody at Monterey County Jail. The client was a frail and elderly woman in her late sixties with mental health issues. The client was undergoing a mental health episode and outburst at the time.
During the cell extraction, the deputies used significant force removing her from the cell. Once on the ground, one deputy bent her leg back so aggressively that he fractured her femur. No less than four deputies participated in the cell extraction.
First Amendment Retaliation Alleged
The lawsuit further claims that the extraction and use of force itself was in retaliation for the client exercising her protected First Amendment rights. The First Amendment protects certain speech and an individual’s right to use it. It is illegal for law enforcement officers to use force against an individual for solely exercising protected speech. Doing so is a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Policies of Monterey County Jail Were Not Followed
Evidence also suggests that the deputies failed to follow the jail’s mandated pre-cell extraction protocols. This includes having qualified medical and mental health staff evaluate the client prior to the planned use of force. It also includes filming the planned use of force.
A review of the incident report shows that no medical or mental health staff were available to evaluate the client. The incident report also fails to make any mention as to filming the incident. Importantly, Monterey County Jail’s policies and procedures require that cell extractions, also referred to as planned uses of force, be filmed for transparency.
The failure to film the cell extraction, as required by policy, suggests that the deputies did not want what transpired to be captured on film.
In sum, the filming is required to help protect the inmate and the deputies themselves. An objective record of what happened protects the inmate from the use of unreasonable and excessive force. At the same time, a video recording protects the officers or deputies from unfounded claims of excessive force when an injury does result. The failure to film the cell extraction, as required by policy, suggests that the deputies did not want what transpired to be captured on film.
The Specific Allegations In the Excessive Force Lawsuit
Below are the pertinent allegations, word for word, from the excessive force lawsuit our civil rights lawyers filed:
This action arises from the unlawful use of force by five Monterey County sheriff deputies responsible for fracturing the left femur of Cheryl Diggs, a 67-year-old, 115-pound, mentally ill inmate of the Monterey County Jail. Also responsible is Monterey County for its unconstitutional customs of understaffing mental health personnel and deficient mental health services in contradiction to the Implementation Plan approved by this Court following Hernandez.
On October 8, 2022, Defendant deputies communicated to Diggs that they wanted to move her for her own comfort due to water in her cell. Diggs, who was experiencing an acute psychiatric episode, told the deputies that she wished to remain in her cell and to leave her alone. After deliberating for approximately 40 minutes and failing to consult with or summon mental health personnel—which was not on staff—Defendants stormed Diggs, threw her to the ground and dragged her from her cell. While four deputies held Diggs face-down to the ground, Deputy Palma wrenched Diggs’ left leg toward her back with such force that it snapped her femur—the strongest bone in the body. Instead of taking Diggs for needed medical treatment, she was handcuffed, placed in leg restraints and put in a safety cell.
This shocking series of events was the result of the sadistic, malicious and intentional misconduct of the individual defendants and the unconstitutional customs of Monterey County. Diggs now brings this action against Defendants under § 1983 and Monell for violations of her constitutional rights and for related state law claims.
- Hernandez v. County of Monterey, Case No.: 5:13-cv-2354-PSG, was a class action lawsuit by Monterey County Jail (“Jail”) inmates concerning inadequate Jail policies related to suicide prevention, mental health screening, medical care, cell extractions and planned uses of force.
- On August 15, 2015, in Hernandez, this Court approved a Settlement Agreement, which required the County to develop a certain implementation plan.
- The implementation plan was to address areas for improvement at the Jail such as care, programs, activities and services. Subject matters to be addressed included the use of safety cells, medical care and mental health care.
- On August 16, 2016, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office issued “GENERAL ORDER 16-01 CORRECTIONS POLICY AND PROCEDURE CHANGES.” General Order 16-01 directed that the changes ordered and agreed to pursuant to Hernandez were to take effect on August 19, 2016. General Order 16-01 repeats verbatim and consists exclusively of language from the County Implementation Plan.
- Concerning the planned use of force on an inmate, General Order 16-01 mandates that “[m]edical and mental health staff shall be consulted before any planned use of force on an
- Incorporated into the County’s Implementation Plan under the heading, “Planned Use of Force,” is Lexipol Policy 511, titled “Use of Force.”
- Policy 511 provides in pertinent part:
An immediate use of force occurs when force is used to respond without delay to a situation or circumstances that constitutes an imminent threat to security or safety. For example, the immediate or unplanned use of force by staff to stop an inmate from inflicting life-threatening injuries to him/herself or to stop an assault on any other person, including other inmates.
If there is no need for immediate action, staff should attempt to resolve the situation through compliance or, if it reasonably appears necessary, the calculated use of force. A calculated use of force is called for when an inmate’s presence or conduct poses a threat to safety or security and the inmate is located in an area that can be controlled or isolated, or when time and circumstances permit advance planning, staffing and organization.
A supervisor shall be present in any situation involving the calculated use of force. The supervisor shall notify the Shift Commander for approval and consultation prior to any calculated use of force action.
- Policy 511 provides further that “[a] video recording is required for all calculated use of force incidents and should include the introduction of all members participating in the process.”
- The County Implementation Plan also addresses custody staffing. The Plan provides as follows:
There shall be, at all times, sufficient staff designated to remain in the facility for the supervision and welfare of inmates, to ensure the implementation and operation of all programs and activities as required by Title 15 CCR Minimum Jail Standards, to respond to emergencies when needed, and to comply with the County and CFMG’s implementation plans, including any need to escort an inmate to a hospital, psychiatric facility or other health care provider. Such staff must not leave the facility while inmates are present and should not be assigned duties that could conflict with the supervision of inmates (15 CCR 1027).
The Sheriff or the authorized designee shall complete an annual comprehensive staffing analysis to evaluate personnel requirements and available staffing levels. The staffing analysis will be used to determine staffing needs and to develop staffing plans. The Chief Deputy or Captain of Corrections Bureau, in conjunction with the PREA coordinator, should ensure that staffing levels are sufficient to consistently and adequately fill essential positions, as determined by the staffing plan (28 CFR 115.13).
- On October 8, 2022, Diggs was incarcerated at the Monterey County Jail.
- At all relevant times, including during her incarceration, Diggs suffered from mental illness.
- Jail staff members, including Defendants, were familiar with Diggs and were aware that she suffered from mental illness.
- At approximately 8:30 p.m., Defendant deputies sought to remove Diggs from her cell, which was located in the administrative segregation housing unit. The deputies claimed they wanted to move Diggs from the cell because of water on the floor and so that she could have fresh linens, a clean mattress and clean clothes.
- Diggs, who was suffering from an acute psychiatric episode, informed Defendant deputies that she did not want to be moved or her cell to be changed.
- Defendant deputies took offense to Diggs communicating her wishes that she did not want to be removed from her cell.
- After approximately 40 minutes of deliberation, Defendant deputies decided to enter Diggs’ cell to extract her against her wishes.
- Mental health staff was not consulted. No member of the mental health staff was even on duty.
- As Defendant deputies entered Diggs’ cell, Diggs told them to leave her alone and to leave her cell.
- Pantoja charged Diggs with a shield and pinned her against the back wall of the cell. Palma and Arroyo followed Pantoja and grabbed Diggs and took her to the ground. Greenwood and Huerta then immediately entered and assisted the other deputies in dragging Diggs from her cell.
- Outside of the cell, all five Defendant deputies were hands on with Diggs, who was face down on the ground. Palma took Diggs’ left leg and thrust it toward her back with such force that it fractured Diggs’ left femur.
- When Palma fractured Diggs’ left femur, a popping sound was audible to Defendant deputies. Diggs immediately complained of pain to her left leg.
- Instead of taking Diggs for x-rays and needed medical attention, Diggs was placed in handcuffs and leg restraints. She was then put in a safety cell on suicide watch.
The Federal and State Civil Rights Claims Advanced
The civil rights lawsuit alleges both federal and state law claims for violations of the client’s civil rights. Those include:
- Violation of the Eight Amendment Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Excessive force on a Convicted Person)
- Violation of the First Amendment Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Retaliation for Using Free Speech)
- Violation of the Eighth Amendment Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs of a Convicted Person)
- Monell Claim against Monterey County for Eighth Amendment Violations
- Violations of the Bane Act Pursuant to California Civil Code § 52.1
- Battery by a Law Enforcement Officer
The Damages Claimed
The lawsuit seeks damages for the injuries the client sustained and for the civil rights violations the client was subjected to. The lawsuit seeks:
- Compensatory damages for the client’s pain, suffering, medical expenses, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life.
- Treble damages, under the Bane Act, which allows up to three time the client’s compensatory damages.
- Punitive damages which are damages awarded as a punishment to deter the defendants and others from repeating similar conduct in the future.
- Attorney fees which may be awarded to the prevailing party under the Bane Act or pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
Contact an Experienced Civil Rights Lawyer
If you or a loved one has experienced law enforcement misconduct, contact the Piccuta Law Group today. An attorney is available now to discuss your case. We have vast experience handling difficult and challenging civil rights cases. This includes both contested police brutality cases as well as cases involving the rights of prisoners. There is no fee unless we recover for you and an initial consultation costs you nothing.
About the author: The content on this page was written by California personal injury attorney and civil rights lawyer Charles “Tony” Piccuta. Piccuta graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana (Previously ranked Top 35 US News & World Report). Piccuta took and passed the State bars of Arizona, California, Illinois and Nevada (all on the first try). He actively practices throughout California and Arizona. He is a winning trial attorney that regularly handles serious personal injury cases and civil rights lawsuits. He has obtained six and seven figure verdicts in both state and federal court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers for six years straight. He is AV Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project, Arizona Association of Justice, and many local county and City bar associations.
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