SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Weeks before Smiley Martin was accused of being one of five gunmen in Sacramento's worst mass shooting, the county agreed to pay him a $7,500 settlement.
"It's really difficult to sue, and to prevail is just as difficult," Sacramento Attorney Mark Reichel said. "The laws are kind of slanted toward the correctional officers."
In a handwritten lawsuit, Martin claimed in 2018 that a jail guard was responsible for rival gang members attacking him. He claims the guard allowed rival gang members to interact with one another which resulted in Martin being surrounded by inmates who attacked him.
In the lawsuit, he writes, "I had hot water thrown on me and second degree burns." He went on to say, "I was hurt and feel he left me in a dangerous predicament."
Martin represented himself in the lawsuit and claimed he was not offered medical attention immediately after the attack. He claimed the guard later threatened him after he wrote a grievance.
"No matter how reprehensible that the public may feel of someone, we as a society in America don't therefore torture, we don't violate their rights," explained Reichel.
The Sacramento County Main Jail has been the focus of numerous lawsuits in past years over excessive force, wrongful death, and inhumane treatment by guards. It's cost the county millions of dollars. Reichel has worked on several lawsuits against the jail.
"This is a real problem, and if you take one-tenth of that amount of money that we pay out to rectify the problem, to prevent it from happening again, we'd be much better off," he said.
In a statement to CBS13, a county spokesperson explained the reason behind Martin's settlement, saying:
"The county's decision to settle was purely economic, as the trial date was approaching and it was likely the trial would be pushed out for many months given the court calendar backup due to COVID. A decision was made to put an end to the case, as the costs going forward would multiply."
Law professor John Myers explained it's not uncommon for county jails to settle.
"In many cases, the government will offer to pay a nominal settlement amount just to get rid of the lawsuit. It's very expensive to litigate these," he explained.
Myers added that lawsuits against jails are not unique to Sacramento County but are common across the nation.
"These lawsuits are common across the United States," he said. "Some jails are better than others, that is true, but these claims are common."
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