SAN FRANCISCO — A Northern California former parolee and atheist who went back to prison after refusing to participate in a religiously-tinged inpatient treatment program is entitled to monetary compensation, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
In an opinion for the 9th U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that a jury must award Barry Hazle Jr. of Redding compensatory damages for the violation of his constitutional rights.
"Now that the Ninth Circuit has ruled, Barry Hazle will finally be able to obtain the vindication to which he's entitled," Hazle's attorney John Heller said in a statement Friday.
A district court ruled in 2010 that Hazle's First Amendment rights were violated. But a jury tasked with assessing monetary damages awarded Hazle nothing over a question of whether the defendants named in the suit, including state corrections department officials, should be on the hook for the compensation, Heller said.
"The District Court had concluded they were liable for violating his rights," Heller said. "The question was were they responsible for the damages that occurred."
The state corrections department referred questions about the case to a federal receiver who controls inmate medical care in California. The receiver's office did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Hazle had served a year in prison on a drug charge. After being released in 2007, he was ordered to take part in the program, but refused saying he's an atheist.
He was then arrested and jailed again.
After serving three more months, Hazle sued state corrections department officials.
Heller said the case will now be remanded to district court and new proceedings could begin in the next several months.
He said in addition to damages, the suit seeks to show that the organization the state contracts with to provide such treatment programs shares responsibility for the violations.