For Immediate Release – Friday, November 20, 2015
SAN FRANCISCO – Pelican Bay State Prison guards are being tried for civil rights violations and retaliation against Jesse Perez, a prisoner who was held in the prison’s notorious solitary confinement units for 10 years. The civil lawsuit hearings began Monday in San Francisco federal district court.
In opening statements, Perez’s legal team accused the prison guards of retaliating against him – stripping him, trashing his cell, destroying his property, filing a false rule violation against him that would have extended his time in solitary, and illegally confiscating his writings critical of his conditions of confinement.
In 2005, Perez filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for his placement in solitary, challenging the process by which he was labeled a “gang affiliate.” His case was settled in 2012, and Perez received a monetary award as well as the right to have his gang affiliation reevaluated.
Perez’s suit claims the guards attacked him and destroyed his property just days after his 2012 settlement. His attorneys are arguing that guards retaliated against Perez for exercising his right to file a lawsuit. Perez has also been politically outspoken and participated in the historic California hunger strikes that started inside of Pelican Bay’s solitary units, another reason Perez claims prison guards targeted him.
In a written account published by the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, Perez states “As prisoner activists seeking to make positive contributions to the interest and human dignity of prisoners, we understand that the trappings of power enjoyed by guards represent the biggest obstacle to significant and lasting progress.” By filing the lawsuit, Perez writes that he seeks the “opportunity to shine a public light at trial and rein in what prisoner activists often endure in exercising their constitutional rights: the retaliatory abuse of the department’s disciplinary process by prison guards.”
Perez’s case is not the only instance of guards’ retaliation against prisoners for their basic expression of civil rights and political activism. Since August 2 of this year, just as a landmark victory settlement for prisoners in civil rights case Ashker v. Brown was being finalized (which significantly reduces California’s ability to keep people in solitary confinement), guards began depriving prisoners in solitary of sleep. Guards continue this sleep deprivation, now for 109 days.
Perez’s trial, presided over by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, will resume today, with closing statements expected.
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