LOS ANGELES – A U.S. District Court approved a class action settlement today, validating claims that conditions in the Los Angeles County jails violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal legal protections for inmates with disabilities.
Nearly seven years after plaintiff Peter Johnson and others filed suit against the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department for discriminating against inmates with mobility impairments, U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson granted final approval of the settlement.
The settlement has already resulted in changes in the jails including the construction of wheelchair accessible toilets in the Inmate Reception Center; new housing for inmates with disabilities in the jail’s Twin Towers complex; nearly doubling the jail’s capacity to accommodate inmates with mobility impairments; and a new system to deliver working wheelchairs to inmates.
The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), Disability Rights California and the law firm of Winston & Strawn, LLP represented Johnson and other plaintiffs.
In 2008, Johnson, who has been paralyzed below the chest since he was 15, had to sit in his own waste for more than eight hours while he was booked into the L.A. County Jail’s Inmate Reception Center, which processes more than 100,000 detainees each year.
Jail officials confiscated Johnson's personal wheelchair and issued him a broken wheelchair with no brakes, so when he tried to transfer to a bed or toilet, he would fall. Without footrests, his feet dragged on the ground, leaving them cut and bloody.
Melinda Bird, litigation director for Disability Rights California, said: “This settlement is a tribute to the persistence and courage of people like Mr. Johnson, who spoke out for the rights of people with disabilities and continued to fight for better treatment long after he had been released or transferred elsewhere.”
“We are pleased with the court’s grant of final approval, and appreciate the Court’s recognition of the many years of hard work that it took to reach this noteworthy result,” said Richard Diaz, DRLC attorney.
The county has also agreed to provide equal access to employment, educational and vocational programs; to offer physical therapy in the jail; to appoint an ADA coordinator to address complaints from inmates or family members; and to create a new ADA complaint system that will allow secondary review of wheelchair accommodations.
Jessica Price, staff attorney at ACLU SoCal, added: “This settlement is a huge step in the right direction towards ensuring that inmates with mobility disabilities receive basic accommodations, but it is just the beginning. Now inmates, their family members, the Office of the Inspector General, and the lawyers must be vigilant to ensure these important protections are enforced.”
Read the agreement
Learn more about the case: https://www.aclusocal.org/johnson/
Sandra Hernandez (213) 977-5252, firstname.lastname@example.org
Melinda Bird, Esq. (916) 357-5459, Melinda.Bird@disabilityrightsca.org
Richard Diaz, Esq. (213) 252-7406, Richard.Diaz@drlc.lls.edu
Carol Eisner (310) 839-1400, email@example.com