June 12, 2014
City News Service
With jurors declaring themselves hopelessly deadlocked, a judge declared a mistrial this week in a young man’s lawsuit alleging Los Angeles County personnel at a youth detention camp in Malibu ignored signs of racial unrest prior to an outbreak of fighting that left him with brain injuries. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos issued her decision Monday June 9, after about two days of deliberations by the jury. The judge scheduled a final status conference for a retrial on Sept. 3. The plaintiff, Nathaniel Marshall, 24, will need lifelong care as a result of the injuries he suffered in a brawl involving Latinos and Blacks at Camp Miller, his lawyer, Michael Goldstein, told the jury May 14.
Marshall, who is Black, sued the county in February 2010, claiming he was pulled from his bunk at the camp and beaten on Nov. 1, 2008.
“This was a systematic breakdown that amounted to deliberate indifference,” Goldstein said. “These kids at that camp were entitled to be protected.”
Attorney Tomas Guterres, representing the county, told jurors that fights in detention camps cannot be eliminated. Such incidents “will occur,” Guterres said.
“We can’t eliminate all fights. It’s the nature of the population.”
Goldstein said staffers and his client warned camp personnel that a riot was about to break out, but no action was taken to prevent it. The complaint alleges the county failed to properly train and supervise the staff to make sure they reacted properly to the warnings. According to Goldstein, many of the probation officers at the camp blamed the outbreak of violence on a failure to properly discipline youths for fighting by sending them to court for violating their probation.
Goldstein said that in October 2007, the county changed the policy that previously allowed supervising probation officers to fill out forms on their own to send youths to court for fighting. The new procedure called for the filings to be approved by the director of Camp Miller, Goldstein said. The director, however, believed the policy change was meant to discourage camp personnel from sending youths to court for probation violations, Goldstein said. Additionally, camp managers wanted to use incentives rather than punishment to get youths to cooperate, Goldstein said.
Guterres said the Juvenile Court wanted the county to start disciplining wards on an individual basis.
“The only way to modify behavior is to adapt your response to that juvenile,” Guterres said.
Goldstein used a diagram to show how Marshall, then 18, suffered an injury to the back of his neck. He said his client suffered strokes from the attack and today has an assortment of health issues, including epilepsy.
“He needs special care for the rest of his life and it’s not inexpensive,” Goldstein said.