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State High Court Denies Newport Prisoner’s Award

Times Staff Writer

The California Supreme Court has overturned a $175,000 judgment awarded to a man who was severely beaten by a prisoner when he was held overnight in Newport Beach City Jail for public drunkenness.

In a 12-page ruling released Monday, the court said Newport Beach was not liable in the beating of city resident Craig Teter, 60, who suffered permanent scarring and vision problems in the 1997 attack. An Orange County Superior Court judge had awarded the judgment after a jury trial, and it was upheld by a state court of appeal.

The case hinged on whether Teter was a prisoner or a detainee in civil protective custody at the time of the assault.

Lawyers for Newport Beach argued that Teter was a prisoner, and that a city is immune from liability when a prisoner is injured in jail. Teter’s lawyers had argued that he was not a prisoner but a detainee who was incarcerated until he sobered up and then released without being prosecuted.

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The state high court ruled that Teter was a prisoner, largely because Newport Beach had no choice but to put him in the city jail because it has no detoxification facility.

The justices acknowledged that some people arrested for being drunk in public are placed in “civil detoxification facilities” and released without being prosecuted, with their arrests categorized as detentions.

But the court noted that “no detoxification facility was available to the arresting officer ... and [Teter] was accordingly not placed in civil protective custody.”

Teter, described by his attorney, Michael Cully, as a laborer, was not available for comment. But Cully said he was disappointed by the court’s ruling. He said Teter still suffers from the effects of the beating.

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