SAN FRANCISCO — A court-appointed monitor says Pelican Bay State Prison has failed to move quickly or firmly enough against guards and other staff who used excessive force against inmates.
The state violated a 1998 court order on discipline at the maximum-security prison through "time delays in rendering discipline decisions, the failure to impose adverse action and the failure to document, as required by policy, the basis for the discipline finally imposed [or not imposed]," monitor John Hagar said in a report made public this week.
Hagar was appointed by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who ruled in 1995 that Pelican Bay violated prisoners' constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment by providing poor health care and allowing systematic brutality by guards.
Since then, the Corrections Department has improved the prison's health care system and restricted the use of force at Pelican Bay and statewide. Two Pelican Bay guards have been sentenced to prison for excessive force, and federal criminal charges are pending against one of those guards and a third officer.
But Hagar's latest report, one of a series of documents he has submitted to Henderson, found serious problems in five excessive-force cases. Each case involved "very severe misconduct," but the punishment in each was less than a 60-day suspension, he said.
Hagar said a guard stomped on an inmate's face in 1996. The inquiry took nearly three years, and several acts of apparent misconduct were not probed at all, he said.
A prison nurse spat on an inmate who was under restraints in 1998, allegedly in retaliation for an attack on a guard, Hagar said. He said the nurse also was accused of failing to write medical reports on inmates allegedly attacked by guards. She was suspended, but the State Personnel Board reduced that to a reprimand.
Hagar recommended faster resolution of investigations, greater flexibility in expanding an inquiry when additional misconduct is discovered, and standards that a warden should follow before exercising his power to overrule investigators.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Sara Turner, who represents the state, said, "We will continue to work with [Hagar] to correct what's recommended."