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Jeffrey Epperson v. State Personnel Board

May 1, 2012

JEFFREY EPPERSON, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
STATE PERSONNEL BOARD, DEFENDANT; DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION, REAL PARTY IN INTEREST AND RESPONDENT.



(Super. Ct. No. 46529)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robie , J.

Epperson v. State Personnel Bd.

CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Plaintiff Jeffrey Epperson was terminated from his position as a correctional sergeant employed by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the department) at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California, as a result of an incident during transportation of an inmate at the prison's administrative segregation unit. The termination was upheld by the State Personnel Board (the board).

Plaintiff appeals from the judgment denying his petition for a writ of mandate to overturn the board's decision. He contends the trial court committed prejudicial error when it found his testimony was not credible, he knowingly failed to include the use of force in his written reports in an effort to cover up another officer's improper use of force, and his dismissal was appropriate. Since the board's decision was supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In June of 2004, inmate Donald Williams (inmate Williams) was serving six life terms without parole plus 19 years at High Desert State Prison. Due to the nature of his commitment offense and his prison disciplinary history, he was housed in the prison's Z unit, an administrative segregation unit which houses recalcitrant inmates with a history of assaulting other inmates and staff, often by spitting or throwing bodily fluids.

Between August 2005 and May 2006, hearings were held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) for the board regarding an incident involving, among others, plaintiff and inmate Williams, and which ultimately resulted in plaintiff's termination. Plaintiff testified at the hearings, as did many other witnesses. The board's findings of fact were, in pertinent part, as follows:

Plaintiff began working for the department in 1996. On June 23, 2004, he was working as shift supervisor at the Z unit, along with Officers Braida and Williams, who were assigned the task of escorting inmates, including inmate Williams, from the walk-alone cells in the yard to their assigned cells inside the facility.

Officer Braida discovered a nipple ring on inmate Williams during a body search and ordered him to remove it. Inmate Williams became upset and removed the ring and threw it on the ground outside the cell.

Plaintiff arrived to assist with transportation of inmate Williams. Plaintiff, Officer Braida and Officer Williams all wore face shields. Officer Williams handcuffed inmate Williams behind the back, unlocked the cell door, and took inmate Williams's arm to escort him out of the cell. As inmate Williams backed out of the cell, he spun around and tried to break free of Officer Williams's hold. Officer Braida jabbed him twice with a baton.*fn1 Plaintiff and Officer Williams both observed Officer Braida's use of the baton.

Plaintiff stepped in and, with the help of Officer Williams, gained control of inmate Williams and took him to the wall. Inmate Williams stood facing the cement wall, with Officer Williams standing to his left and holding his left arm, plaintiff standing to his right and holding his right arm, and Officer Braida standing behind him. Inmate Williams turned his head toward plaintiff. While all three officers testified that they believed inmate Williams was going to spit on plaintiff, plaintiff and Officer Williams both testified they were not looking at inmate Williams's head, and inmate Williams neither made spitting noises nor did he spit. Officer Braida placed both of his hands on inmate Williams head and neck area, lifted himself off the ground several inches and hoisted himself on inmate Williams's shoulders. He then dropped off of inmate Williams, took a step back and, with his right hand, pushed inmate Williams's head into the wall.*fn2

Inmate Williams was escorted back to his cell, where he complained that the force used by Officer Braida was excessive. He prepared a written complaint alleging the same.

Three stationary video cameras recorded different angles of the incident. Shortly after the incident, plaintiff, Officer Braida and others viewed the videotapes of the incident.*fn3 The tapes clearly show Officer Braida jabbing inmate Williams with the baton and pushing inmate Williams's head into the cement wall.

Plaintiff and Officer Braida completed their written incident reports after viewing the videotapes. Officer Williams prepared his written report that day without having reviewed the videotapes. Plaintiff's report omitted any mention of Officer Braida's use of the baton or his act of pushing inmate Williams's head into the wall. Officer Braida's report included his use of the baton to control inmate Williams, but omitted any reference to pushing inmate Williams's head into the wall. All three officers testified that they only included in their reports what they personally observed at the time of the incident. Plaintiff and Officer Braida testified it was their belief they were only required to report what they observed at the time of the incident, not what they observed later during their review of the videotapes.

Officer Gonzalez was assigned the task of monitoring the videotapes. His written incident report omitted any mention of Officer Braida's use of the baton or pushing inmate Williams's head into the wall. Plaintiff reviewed ...


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