Incarcerated Man Details Abuse by Officials at CDCR

David Carino – Courtesy Photo

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by David Carino

I am 33 years old and currently housed at California Medical Facility because of my mental and physical health needs. As a result of my anxiety, PTSD, depression, psychosis and schizoaffective disorder, I receive the highest level of mental healthcare available including my court ordered prescriptions: Buspar, Remeron, Lamotrigine, Wellbutrin and Zyprexa. The court ordered these prescriptions because I have attempted suicide over fifty times. Despite this care, I experience daily auditory and visual hallucinations and if I refuse my court-ordered medications, the staff are authorized to administer me Haldol by injection without consent.

Aside from my mental health, I also have physical health needs. I have a mobility disability and use a cane to get around. My disability also means I must be housed on the ground floor in a lower bunk and staff must cuff my hands in front of my body so that I may use my cane. I have orthotic shoes and insoles as well as a knee brace as accommodations. Aside from my mobility issues, I have GERD, dyslipidemia, sinus tachycardia, and asthma which are managed by additional prescription medications. I am designated as a medical high risk.

On June 24, 2021, I met with my psychiatrist to discuss my mental health medication. Prior to this meeting, I refused my court-ordered medications, Seroquel, for three times because I had not been doing well mentally. At the time, I was extremely paranoid and psychotic and experiencing full blown auditory and visual hallucinations, including seeing the victims of my crime. Seroquel makes me drowsy and unaware, which was a state that I did not wish to be in during my paranoia. I feared that I would be attacked by my dorm mates if I was not alert. For those three days, I could not sleep. Instead of my Seroquel, I voluntarily allowed the staff to inject my alternative antipsychotic medication, Zyprexa. When I met with my psychiatrist, I explained my paranoia and concerns, asking him to lower my Seroquel dose and subsequently the side effects. He did not take my concerns seriously and refused to lower the dose.

Later that evening, nursing staff attempted to give me Haldol instead of my prescribed medication, Seroquel. I refused the Haldol and told the nursing staff that Haldol is ineffective for my psychosis and gives me the most severe neurological side effects of any of the medications I’ve taken. I currently take Benztropine to manage these. Then the staff told me that they would be forced to give me an injection of Haldol because my psychiatrist changed my back up medication from Zyprexa to Haldol. I told staff that I had not been notified of these changes to my medication. I insisted that they could not inject me with Haldol unless I had the opportunity to speak with my psychiatrist about my concerns. The nursing staff called my psychiatrist and told me that my psychiatrist had given me a one-time order to change my back up medication from Haldol to Zyprexa. I consented and allowed them to inject me with Zyprexa.

The next morning, nursing staff attempted to give me Haldol during the morning medication distribution. I reiterated that I needed to speak with my psychiatrist about my medication change and explained to the staff that I would take Zyprexa but not Haldol under any circumstances because of how bad it makes me feel. They called my psychiatrist again but this time the staff told me that the doctor ordered them to administer Haldol, including by involuntary injections if necessary. I told them I would never take the Haldol, left the medication, and returned to my dorm.

A few minutes later, Officer Villanueva came to my dorm and attempted to convince me to take my medication. I told Officer Villanueva the same thing I told the nurses; I would take the Zyprexa but not Haldol. I still had not spoken with my psychiatrist and asked Officer Villanueva to call the sergeant so I could raise my concerns and speak with my psychiatrist. As he left, Officer Villanueva told me he would do so. Approximately seven people in my dorm witnessed this interaction with Officer Villanueva.

A few minutes later, Officer Villanueva, another officer and two sergeants approached my dorm. They ordered my dormmates to go to the dayroom. I feared what may happen because the dorm is not easily seen from the dayroom. Because staff cleared out all possible witnesses, I became fearful that these officers intended to extract me from my cell to administer Haldol by injection. Due to my paranoia and hallucinations combined with the staff’s behavior, I was fearful for my life and begged them to leave me alone. I told them this. I told them this was unnecessary and I would willingly leave my cell. No one acknowledged my words. At this point, the voices in my head were screaming at me loudly and violently, saying that the staff was going to kill me. They were so loud that I couldn’t think.

I told the officers that I feared for my life because the voices said they were going to kill me. I told them I would leave the cell voluntarily to take my medication and moved to do so. Sergeant Heath, who arrived with Officer Villanueva, raised his hand in a stop gesture and I did. I backed up and sat on my bed. Sergeant Heath began approaching me and ordered me to lie face down so that my hands could be cuffed behind me. This terrified me because Sergeant Heath was neither holding handcuffs nor did I see any on his belt.

I stood from the bed and explained that I needed to be cuffed in front of my body so that I could use my cane to walk. In response, Sergeant Heath said that we were “beyond that point” and lunged at me without warning or orders. He grabbed me by the hands and I pulled away from him because I believed that he intended to kill me. Sergeant Heath’s next actions did nothing to dissuade this fear.

Sergeant Heath punched me in the face. Closed fist into my forehead. The punch was so forceful that it knocked me backwards and I fell onto the bed. Immediately, sharp pain filled my temples as bad as a migraine.

As soon as I made contact with the bed, I curled into the fetal position, tucking my head under my arms and using my limbs to protect my vital organs. Before my head was tucked fully, Sergeant Houston, Officer Villanueva and Officer Noriega rushed toward me and began punching and kicking. Between the four, I estimate that they punched and kicked me 15-20 times.

I was absolutely terrified and convinced I was about to die. I kept crying out, pleading to them. “I’m so scared, please don’t hurt me. I fear for my life!” In the middle of the assault, the building alarm began to go off. At this point, Sergeant Houston and Officer Norgiega grabbed my arms and forced them behind my back, leaving me open and defenseless against Sergeant Heath and Officer Villanueva’s assault. While I was unable to block hits, Sergeant Heath and Officer Villanueva punched me in the face and torso several times. Eventually, Sergeant Houston and Officer Noriega placed cuffs on me. Then the officers brought me to my feet and escorted me to the dayroom.

I did not resist the officers, other than curling into a fetal position against their attack. I did not attempt to punch, strike, lunge at or kick the officers. I avoided eye contact as much as possible during the assault out of fear of a false Rule Violation Report for Battery on a Peace Officer. There was no justification for the staff’s use of force against me.

There were no attempts to defuse the situation apart from my own. Sergeant Heth did not even say anything before he punched me in the face. They did not bring a handheld camera to videotape the use of force. They did not call for a clinician to help calm the situation. They did not engage with my concerns about my medication. I tried to defuse the situation: before staff escalated things, I told them several times that I would leave my dorm to take my medication voluntarily. That should have been the end of the incident. But the officers did not accept my attempts to make peace. Instead, they brutalized me.

Once inside the dayroom, I asked the officers why they assaulted me when I posed no threat. In response, Sergeant Heth told me that he “knew what he was doing.” He then claimed that I attempted to punch him but he blocked my punch and used force to stop me from attacking further. I told him that was a lie.

Then the medical staff evaluated me. They injected me with Haldol, Ativan, and Benadryl to calm me down. While documenting my injuries on Form 7219, nursing staff informed me that I had abrasions on my forehead and back of my head. I could feel these injuries as well as sore ribs. Due to being handcuffed, I couldn’t lift my shirt to show my torso so I asked the nurse to lift my shirt and document those injuries as well. She refused. I asked her to photograph my injuries as well but she refused this as well.

I tried to tell the nurse that custody staff attacked me but when I said that, Sergeant Heath interrupted me. He told the nurse that we were “wrestling” and I was not attacked. On Form 7219, the nurse attributes two statements to me. “I got attacked” and “I was not attacked. We were wrestling.” Despite Sergeant Heath making the second statement, both were attributed to me.

Staff transferred me to a different wing for acute level of care despite previously being at an intermediate level of care. I do not know why staff transferred me except maybe as a result of my injuries following the assault. Later that afternoon, I met with my treatment team and explained that the staff assaulted me for no reason when I refused my medication. They did not seem to believe me nor did they ask any follow up questions. After I brought it to their attention, they quickly changed the subject.

In addition to the abrasions on my forehead and back of the head, I sustained bruises, swelling and redness all over my chest and both arms as a result of the staff’s assault. Ever since the attack, my vision is significantly blurrier and I have more headaches. While these symptoms may be the side effects of the drug cocktail I am required to take, these symptoms are significantly worse than I have ever experienced in my extended experience with my medications. Therefore, I believe that I suffered a concussion or other head trauma due to the officers.

Four days after the incident, two sergeants arrived at my cell to video interview me. I told them I would not give a statement without my attorney present and I intended to press charges against the officers. I asked them to call medical staff to document my injuries. They did and the nursing staff completed as second Form 2719. Fortunately, this time I was able to lift my shirt so that the injuries on my torso and arms were documented.

After a month, I was transferred back to my typical wing and filed a 602 staff misconduct complaint about the use of unnecessary force against me. A couple days after filing, nursing staff conducted a third Form 7219 but my injuries were mostly healed at that time. In July 2021, an investigator arrived, intending to interview me about the complaint. Once again, I stated that I would not speak without my attorney present and declined to give a statement.

The staff issued a Rule Violation Report for Battery on a Peace Officer in connection with the assault. As a part of the Rule Violation Report, a clinician interviewed me for a mental health assessment in a private office. I told the clinician that the Rule Violation Report was false and the staff assaulted me. Sadly, I could tell by her tone and facial expressions that she did not believe me.

In the end, the clinician concluded that my mental health did not contribute to the behavior leading up to the Rule Violation Report. In the days leading up to the assault, I was paranoid, psychotic and severely sleep deprived, not to mention, refusing medication. I expressed these concerns to my clinician and psychiatrist. The mental health staff were aware that I was unwell at the time of the incident. Moreover, the officers came to my dorm because I refused to take my medication. Nothing could be more closely related to my mental health.

Additionally, the clinician included misleading information on the report. I believe she included this information in order to make me seem like a violent person. The clinician recorded that the Rule Violation Report was consistent with prior reports in  2013, 2015, and 2017. This is untrue. I have only ever been found guilty of one Rule Violation Report in 2013, which occurred when a person attacked me and I defended myself. I was found not guilty of the 2015 report and the 2017 Rule Violation Report was reduced to a counseling chrono. The fact that the clinician implied that I have multiple Rule Violation Reports is misleading information that implies my behavior in prison is violent. As a result, I believe she is biased against me. I do not believe that the alleged incidents from four to eight years ago prove that I am violent.

If the clinician reviewed my mental health records carefully, she would see that I have been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses since my childhood, and that I had been housed in an inpatient psychiatric hospital setting due to severe psychosis and mood disturbance for nearly two years at the time that staff allege I assaulted them.

In the Rule Violation Report for this incident, Sergeant Heath claimed that I attempted to punch him, which required him to punch me in the face in self defense. That is false. At no point did I attempt to punch or strike any of the officers. At my Rule Violation Report hearing, I tried explaining that the staff attacked me. The Hearing Officer told me he did not care and that he believed his officers. The hearing officer found me guilty.

I reviewed the officers’ incident reports about the incident and they contain a number of troubling discrepancies. First, Officer Noriega, who held my arms behind my back while the other assaulted me, did not submit a report. The other three reports do not mention him. Second, the other three reports are inconsistent with each other. Sergeant Houston and Officer Villanueva’s reports correctly state that Sergeant Heath’s punch knocked me onto my bunk. Yet Sergeant Heath claimed that, after he punched me, I continued to resist, causing him to “forcibly pull” me onto my bunk. I believe that Sergeant Heath falsely reported that I continued to resist him in order to cover up the fact that he punched me with such extreme force that I was knocked to the bed.

As a result of being found guilty of the false Rule Violation Report, I was placed on max custody status, the highest, most restrictive custody status. I receive my mental health and medical treatment in a cage or restraints. I receive much less access to treatment and programs now.

I have been incarcerated in California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prisons since 2009. In my twelve years, I have been found guilty of one Rule Violation Report prior to this. I have not gained any points to my custody score for the past three years. Since coming to prison, I have tried my best to leave my past behind and work on mental health treatment. I was staying out of trouble and making progress on my treatment. Now, I feel like I am back to square one. I am much more paranoid and anxious because of the assault. Most nights, I try to stay awake as long as possible, to avoid the possibility of staff killing me in my sleep. I experience constant nightmares about the incident, a symptom of my PTSD related to childhood abuse. These nightmares end with staff shooting me. Then I wake up screaming and crying in the same place as the nightmares. I experience flashbacks of the incidents triggered by the smallest of events, like the staff looking at me.

I never leave my cell to go to the yard or dayroom because I fear for my life around custody staff. For several weeks after the incident, I refused to leave my cell to access mental health treatment. Recently, I decided to leave for my mental health services because of my steep decline without them.

The abuse I suffered made me terrified to interact with staff. While I am comfortable with a few select officers I developed relationships with, I do not feel comfortable asking the majority of staff for help with my mental health or medical treatment. Instead I prefer to hold my issues and deal with them on my own until medical or mental health staff I trust are available.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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