Crime & Justice

LA County considers $4 million settlement for paralyzed juvenile inmate

The Los Angeles County Probation Department's administrative offices are located in Downey.
The Los Angeles County Probation Department's administrative offices are located in Downey.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A $3.9 million settlement for a teenage boy left with brain damage and paralysis after a fight inside one of L.A. County's juvenile halls is up for approval by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The boy, identified only as "J.M.M." in the federal lawsuit he filed against the county, was a ward in the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar in July 2013. According to court documents, the 16-year-old had been charged with a "sex related offense" — a fact probation officers allegedly "taunted" the boy about and shared with other wards at the facility.

In jail and prison settings, sex offenders are often kept in protected areas because they can be targets of violence by other inmates. In this case, the suit alleged, probation staff "knew or should have known of the foreseeable risk of harm that would result to J.M.M. at the hands of other violent wards once the disclosure of his delinquency offense was made."

The boy was threatened by other wards, which he allegedly reported to probation staff, but they did not separate him, move him to a different facility, provide him adequate supervision, nor take other steps to avoid a confrontation, according to the suit. A couple of weeks later, the boy was "severely beaten by one or more juveniles," according to the lawsuit, and "sustained severe traumatic brain injury and nearly died."

The boy remains "impaired" and "is unable to speak or walk, or perform daily activities of life." He wears diapers and needs around-the-clock care. 

L.A. County Probation Department Spokesperson Kerri Webb declined to comment on ongoing litigation. She did confirm the officers involved in the lawsuit are still employed by the department. 

L.A.'s County Counsel did not respond to a request for comment, but the writeup provided to the Board of Supervisors recommending a $3.9 million payout alleged J.M.M. "instigated" the fight, which probation staff "immediately stopped." According to the writeup, staff returned the ward to his living quarters, where a supervisor later found him unconscious. He was transported to the hospital, underwent surgery, and emerged with neurological damage and paralysis.

County counsel's corrective action plan calls for the Department of Health Services to have proper protocols for dealing with wards with head injuries and calls for cameras in the living quarters at juvenile halls. 

"Due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs," the writeup concluded.

The same facility in Sylmar has been the subject of other investigations. In March, the L.A. County District Attorney charged three probation officers at the juvenile hall with assault after a video allegedly captured one beating a teenage boy, while another held the boy down and the third officer watched. Those three officers have pleaded not guilty.