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Johnson v. Los Angeles Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 10, 2019






         Plaintiff James Johnson (“Johnson” or “Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) alleging defendants Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (“LASD”), Alex Villanueva, Sheriff of LASD (“Villanueva”), Deputy Inez (“Inez”), and Sergeant Moore (“Moore”) (collectively, “Defendants”) violated his rights to equal protection, due process, “to be safe and secure in [his] person, ” and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. For the reasons discussed below, the Court dismisses the Complaint with leave to amend.



         On June 5, 2019, [1] Johnson, who is currently detained at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles, California, constructively filed the Complaint. In the Complaint, Johnson alleges defendant Inez assaulted him and defendant Moore improperly disciplined him for the incident. ECF Docket No. (“Dkt.”) 1, Compl. While not entirely clear as to which Defendants are associated with which claims, it appears Johnson is alleging (1) excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, equal protection, and “right to be safe and secure” claims against defendant Inez in his official and individual capacities; (2) due process and equal protection claims against defendant Moore in his official and individual capacities; and (3) all of the above claims against the LASD and defendant Villanueva in their official capacity. Id.

         According to the Complaint, on January 22, 2019, while Johnson was walking through a metal cage to the prison yard, defendant Inez directed Johnson to “come here.” Compl. at 15. Johnson walked over to defendant Inez, who directed Johnson to “face the side of the cage.” Id. Johnson complied with his hands “interlaced behind [his] back.” Id. Defendant Inez stood behind Johnson and told Johnson, “I heard what you said.” Id. Defendant Inez then “wrapped his hand around [Johnson's] fingers, squeezing Johnson's fingers together.” Id. at 15-16. Johnson twice turned around to tell defendant Inez he was in pain, and was “punched square in the face with a closed fist” by defendant Inez. Id. at 16. Defendant Inez punched Johnson “3-4 more times in the face” and Johnson was pushed to the ground and shackled by other officers. Id. The officers continued to use force on Johnson causing pain and injury to Johnson's lip, nose, leg, and ankle. Id. Johnson claims he experienced “pain all over [his] body” at a level of “7 or 8” on a scale of 1-10. Id.

         As a result of the incident with defendant Inez, Johnson was charged with assaulting a staff member and had a disciplinary review meeting with defendant Moore on February 2, 2018. Id. at 17. The disciplinary proceeding resulted in Johnson being placed in administrative segregation (“ad-seg”) for 29 days, and reclassification from “general population to K10 status.” Id. at 17-18.

         Johnson “believe[s] that what happened with [defendant] Inez was racially motivated” because he was “the only Black inmate going to yard” on the day of the incident, id. at 15, and prisoners are treated differently by guards of different races, id. at 18. Johnson also points to statements made by defendant Inez and another guard after the incident. Id. Specifically, Johnson alleges after the incident, defendant Inez stated he “got your Black friend there” (referring to Johnson and addressing Johnson's friend), and another guard implicitly agreed Johnson was assaulted because of his race by stating it was “wrong but it's how it is.” Id.

         Johnson seeks compensatory and punitive damages and “therapy with a licensed professional paid for by Defendants.” Id. at 21.



         Where a plaintiff is incarcerated and/or proceeding in forma pauperis, a court must screen the complaint under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A and is required to dismiss the case at any time if it concludes the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A; see Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 (“Rule 8”), a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim for screening purposes, a court applies the same pleading standard as it would when evaluating a motion to dismiss ...

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