From Solitary Confinement at Pelican Bay, Jesse Perez Sues Guards for Retaliation, Wins $25,000

On Nov. 25, 2015, a federal jury awarded $25,000 in damages to Jesse Perez, who had sued guards for trashing his cell in retaliation for his lawsuit against the prison and for his stand against solitary confinement.

By filing the lawsuit, Perez wrote that he sought 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.”

Jesse Perez, 35, is from Colton in San Bernardino County and has been imprisoned since age 15. He was sent to the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay in December 2003 and was held there for 10 years. He took part in all three hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, protesting prolonged isolation.

Perez’s lawyer, Randall Lee, said the verdict sends “a resounding message that the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment are sacrosanct for all of us — even a prisoner in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay.”


Jesse Perez, 2nd from the left, with his legal team in his successful civil rights case about guards’ retaliation – Randall Lee, lead attorney, Jesse, Katie Moran, Matthew Benedetto

The case is based on Jesse Perez challenging the legitimacy of a CDCr gang validation pro se in 2005. He was assigned counsel after a state dismissal motion was defeated. After his attorneys’ filed a Reply Brief, the CDCr reached out to him to settle the case, which he ultimately did in 2013. Perez received a monetary award as well as the right to have his gang affiliation reevaluated.

This is similar to the CDCr settling the Ashker case as the state of CA wants to avoid having to be held publicly accountable and to be subjected to scrutiny and interrogation in court.

In the current civil suit, his attorneys argued that guards retaliated against Perez for exercising his right to file a lawsuit and in response to successfully litigating human rights challenges – in this case the gang validation.

Perez argued that guards retaliated against him for exercising his right to file a lawsuit and in response to his successful litigating for his human rights and to overturn
his baseless gang validation.

During settlement negotiations in his initial lawsuit, which CDCr could anticipate would be successful for Perez and require a re-review of his ‘gang validation’, four officers forced Perez to strip, removed all of his legal paperwork, and trashed his cell.  In the process, one officer stated, “you might have been able to win some money from us, but we will make sure that you stay [in solitary] where you belong.” Perez did not get all of his property back.  He was later charged with a serious rules violation for “willfully obstructing the officers” during that search, for which he was ultimately found Not Guilty.

Jesse 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.”

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