Court Approves Major Class Action Settlement for Inmates with Disabilities in Los Angeles County Jails

Disability Rights Legal Center, ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), Disability Rights California, & the law firm of Winston & Strawn, LLP
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LOS ANGELES, CA- March 23, 2014 – Named plaintiff Peter Johnson, a Los Angeles resident, has used a wheelchair since he was paralyzed below the chest at age 15. When he was arrested and sent to the Los Angeles County Jail eight years ago, there was no wheelchair-accessible toilet available for him. He had to sit in his own waste for more than eight hours while he was booked into the Jail’s Inmate Reception Center, which processed more than 100,000 detainees each year. Jail officials confiscated his personal wheelchair and issued him a broken wheelchair with no brakes, so when he tried to transfer to a bed or toilet, he fell. Without footrests, his feet dragged on the ground, leaving them cut and bloody.

Johnson and other inmates with mobility impairments filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in 2008, claiming that conditions in the Los Angeles County jail violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal legal protections.

Today, after nearly seven years of hard-fought litigation, U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson granted final approval of a sweeping settlement in this class action lawsuit. Mr. Johnson was present in the Los Angeles courtroom for this victory.

The settlement has already resulted in significant changes in the massive jail system, including the construction of wheelchair accessible toilets in the Inmate Reception Center, new housing for inmates with disabilities in the jail’s Twin Towers complex, nearly doubling the jail’s capacity to accommodate inmates with mobility impairments, and a new system to deliver working wheelchairs to inmates. The County has also agreed to provide equal access to employment, educational and vocational programs, offer physical therapy in the jail, appoint an ADA coordinator to address complaints from inmates or family members, and create a new ADA complaint system that will allow secondary review of wheelchair accommodations.

The plaintiffs in this case are represented by Disability Rights Legal Center, ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), Disability Rights California, and the law firm of Winston & Strawn, LLP.

Melinda Bird, Litigation Director for Disability Rights California, said: “This settlement is a tribute to the persistence and courage of people like Mr. Johnson, who spoke out for the rights of people with disabilities and continued to fight for better treatment long after he had been released or transferred elsewhere.”

“We are pleased with the Court’s grant of final approval, and appreciate the Court’s recognition of the many years of hard work that it took to reach this noteworthy result,” said Richard Diaz, DRLC attorney.

Jessica Price, staff attorney for the ACLU SoCal, added, “This settlement is a huge step in the right direction towards ensuring that inmates with mobility disabilities receive basic accommodations, but it is just the beginning. Now inmates, their family members, the Office of the Inspector General, and the lawyers must be vigilant to ensure these important protections are enforced.”

Melinda Bird, Esq. (916) 357-5459,
Richard Diaz, Esq. (213) 252-7406,
Carol Eisner (310) 839-1400,
Sandra Hernandez (213) 977-5252,

Read the settlement on