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Ex-Orange County jail inmate gets $500,000 for work assignment injury

James Spring, 62, had a hernia and should not have been forced to work in the jail kitchen, says his attorney

By TONY SAAVEDRA | tsaavedra@scng.com | Orange County Register PUBLISHED: May 20, 2022 at 1:59 p.m. | UPDATED: May 20, 2022 at 4:33 p.m.

Inmates working at the kitchen at the Orange County Theo Lacy Jail

Orange County will pay $500,000 to a former jail inmate who suffered a ruptured hernia in 2019 after sheriff’s deputies forced him to work in the kitchen, lifting heavy objects.

The settlement was unanimously approved this month by the county Board of Supervisors in response to a federal lawsuit seeking $30 million.

James Spring, who had been homeless, entered Theo Lacy jail in September 2019 to serve a 60-day sentence for misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine, according to his lawsuit and attorney Jerry Steering.

Spring, 62, had a hernia when he arrived. A jail nurse excused him from having to work while in custody, but neglected to give him a written release — called a “chrono” — to show deputies, Steering said. When deputies ordered Spring to work, he told them about his medical condition and that he had been excused. But Spring didn’t have a written release to show the deputies.

Steering said the deputies could have checked the jail computer or contacted the nurse, but they didn’t.

“They weren’t trying to hurt him,” Steering said. “They just didn’t bother to listen to him. … It’s like ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ a failure to communicate.”

He added: “They were a little too cavalier to make him work.”

Because of his kitchen job, Steering said, Spring suffered a ruptured hernia and was rushed to Anaheim Global Medical Center. During surgery, a doctor allegedly severed a nerve, leaving Spring unable to feel his penis, Steering said.

Spring is now out of custody.

“People make mistakes,” Steering said. “When they do work assignments, they are supposed to check with a nurse.”

The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the settlement.