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Friday, June 7, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California prison guard denied immunity in suit over inmate murder by ‘psychopath’ cellmate

A mother can proceed with her lawsuit against a prison guard who placed her son in the same cell with someone tried to kill another inmate.

(CN) — A California prison guard must face a lawsuit by the mother of an inmate who was murdered and dismembered the day after he arrived because he was placed in a cell with a known "psychopath."

U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd in Sacramento denied in part the request to dismiss the lawsuit by the murdered inmate Luis Romero's mother Dora Solares Solares had sued guard Joseph Burns, former secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Ralph Diaz and Kenneth Clark, the warden of the California state prison in Corcoran where the murder occurred.

Drozd found Solares had failed to adequately show Diaz and Clark had knowledge that the cellmate, James Osuna, had a propensity for violence. Burns did not fare as well.

Solares claims Burns and other unidentified prison guards knew Osuna had not been permitted to share a cell with anyone before. In addition, a photograph of Osuna attached to the lawsuit certainly could support an inference that he was an obvious risk to others, Drozd found.

Solares claims Burns placed her son in a cell with Osuna because Romero had filed a personnel complaint against Burns.

According to the lawsuit, Osuna is a violent psychopath who was previously convicted of torturing and killing a person. While awaiting trial, authorities charged him with the attempted murder of a fellow inmate at the Kern County Jail. Osuna's own lawyers and a medical team warned the CDCR not to place him in a cell with other inmates, according to Solares' complaint.

Romero came to Corcoran on March 7, 2019, according to Drozd's decision. The following night, a bedsheet was placed over Romero and Osuna’s cell window and guards failed to conduct safety checks and ignored loud noises coming from the cell, the complaint says. During the night, Osuna murdered and dismembered Romero with a homemade weapon in a particularly gruesome fashion.

Jeremy Duggan, a lawyer with California Attorney General's office who represents the defendants, didn't respond to a request for comment on the ruling by press time.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal, Employment, Government

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