SACRAMENTO (AP) — A federal court judge has decided that videos showing California prison guards dousing mentally ill prisoners with pepper spray can be shown in open court, an attorney representing inmates said Wednesday.
Attorney Michael Bien told The Associated Press that U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton announced his decision Wednesday during a telephone conference call with attorneys representing inmates and the state.
He said it was important to show the use-of-force videos in public so that the state’s claims about improvements it has made in the treatment of mentally ill prisoners can be assessed fairly. It also will give an opportunity for experts on both sides to explain what is happening during the filming, which was done by state prison guards.
“While they are very powerful, they should also be explained about why this is improper and dangerous and harming the mentally ill,” Bien said.
Court declarations by expert witnesses who viewed the videos said they show prison guards tossing chemical grenades and pumping pepper spray into the cells of screaming mentally ill inmates, using pepper spray on asthmatic inmates and, in one case, blasting one mentally ill inmate with pepper spray five times within the span of a few minutes because he refused to leave his cell. That inmate was left “completely delirious,” according to one expert’s account filed with the court.
Bien, whose law firm is based in San Francisco, said each side will be allowed to play four hours of video during a trial that will begin next Tuesday in federal court in Sacramento. The trial originally had been scheduled to begin Thursday.
The administration of Gov. Jerry Brown had sought to keep the videos out of public view. If they were to be shown at all, the administration wanted the judge to watch them privately in his chambers.
Corrections department spokesman Jeffrey Callison said the state did not want to comment on the matter because the court had not issued a decision publicly. But he said that if the videos are shown in open court, the state would want them to run in their entirety to provide the proper context.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)