“I spent five years to get them to dismiss the write-ups which should never have been filed in the first place”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to pay an inmate $8,400 in a legal settlement for disciplinary and non-disciplinary documentation the inmate claimed were false and retaliatory.
The settlement agreement, entered in April 2018, also required the CDCR to remove all paper and electronic copies of the documents from the inmate’s file in exchange for his dismissal of two other lawsuits.
“I spent five years to get them to dismiss the write-ups which should never have been filed in the first place,” said Chung Kao, an inmate at San Quentin State Prison.
Court records show that in 2012 Kao filed a civil rights suit in the federal district court in San Diego, CA, alleging that the prison appeals coordinator “arbitrarily and dishonestly rejected, cancelled and/or discarded 21 inmate appeals” submitted by him and placed information in his prison file accusing him of abusing the inmate appeal process.
Kao alleged the appeals coordinator documented that he filed numerous inmate appeals “which contain(ed) veiled threats of lawsuit and requests/expectations for special treatment.” The unsupported reason was “in attempts to intimidate, threaten, harass, manipulate and unlawfully influence staff for personal reasons.”
At the time, Kao was housed at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. In 2017, the prison offered Kao $1,400 and the expungement of the erroneous information in his file to settle the case.
During the settlement process, Kao filed a separate civil rights suit in the same court, alleging the prison staff filed a false disciplinary report against him, found him guilty without evidence, and thereafter threw away his inmate appeal of the discipline to retaliate for his filing grievances and lawsuits against the prison’s staff.
In a previous case, Kao was successful in state court to compel the prison to file and process his disciplinary appeal because the CDCR “is obliged to process disciplinary appeals by the regulations in the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, section 3084 et seq.,” the court said in its opinion in February 2016.
The district judge dismissed the 2017 lawsuit upon filing. Kao filed an appeal to the federal appeals court in San Francisco, CA.
The CDCR then offered a consolidated settlement in which the state agreed to pay an additional $7,000 to Kao, along with the expungement of the disciplinary report and prior settlement offers, in ex- change for Kao’s dismissal of the appeal and earlier lawsuit.
Federal law prohibits prison actions which would “chill” inmates’ exercise of the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances using the inmate appeals system. The prohibition includes prison policy penalizing inmate choice of language as well as retaliation for filing inmate appeals.
“Retaliation is still commonplace,” said Kao. “The evil-doers knew they’d al- ways get away because, in the end, it’s the taxpayers who had to foot the bill,” referring to California’s indemnification law protecting state employees against legal liabilities arising from their official conduct, even if the acts are intentionally malicious.