San Quentin guards anti-Semitism settlement rejected

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

A San Quentin prison guard said he is deeply insulted by the state's most recent offer to settle his anti-Semitism lawsuit against the prison and the California Department of Corrections.

Alan Ashenfarb, a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison since January 1994, said he was offered $10,000 and a transfer to Folsom State Prison two weeks ago, but called this second settlement offer "a slap in the face. They shouldn't even have wasted their time."

In November the state Attorney General's office had offered only to transfer him to Folsom — a settlement he also declined.

A motion for summary judgment was scheduled to take place Thursday in Marin Superior Court.

Ashenfarb and his attorney, Stanley Hilton, had in the past presented their own settlement proposal to the state with a much higher, undisclosed dollar amount. But the guard claimed he is reluctant to settle the case out of court.

"It would negate everything I've been working for," explained Ashenfarb, whose suit alleges on-the-job anti-Semitism dating back to January 1995. "If I settle they're going to seal the records and they're not going to make any changes in their policy and procedure. It's like they're paying me off to shut my mouth. They're not going to expose and punish the people who did what they did."

A representative from the Attorney General's office would not comment on the settlement offer.

Despite turning down the settlement offer, Ashenfarb said he submitted paperwork last week to request a transfer to Folsom State Prison "without the assistance" of the state.

"In light of everything I'm going through, a change of atmosphere might be nice," he said, adding that he would appreciate the significantly shorter commute from his Sacramento home.

As far as any possible anti-Semitism climate he might encounter there, he said, "I don't want to pre-judge the environment at all. It could be the same, it could be worse or it could be better. If it is the same I guess I'll deal with it like I've been dealing with the environment I'm coming from."

Ashenfarb's suit accuses named officers, sergeants, other agents and CDC employees of engaging in a "constant pattern of anti-Semitic speaking and sloganeering in the presence of inmates and among themselves, all of which have fostered an anti-Semitic environment."

The suit also states that he has "suffered emotional distress, pain and suffering and other damages…he has sustained severe injuries to his health, strength and activity."

When the suit was originally filed in May 2000, Ashenfarb described a series of "embarrassing and demeaning" situations ranging from anti-Jewish jokes to neo-Nazi and SS graffiti around the prison. He said co-workers had asked him offensive questions about the size of his nose or the derivation of his last name, sometimes in front of the prisoners. He also said he was "physically assaulted, battered and pushed" by a civilian cook, because he is Jewish.

Despite filing two complaints, Ashenfarb said he had "not heard one word from San Quentin administration on these issues."

According to policy, the prison and the CDC will not comment on pending litigation.

While Ashenfarb has mostly received support from prisoners and co-workers, there has also been some backlash and "snide looks," he said. In June 2000, for instance, he found a black swastika drawn on an 11-by-14-inch piece of paper in his work mailbox.

Then in August 2000 he feared that a small fire at his Sacramento home was "a scare tactic" related to the suit. After an investigation by the Sacramento Fire Department, it was determined to be an accident caused by neighborhood kids who were playing with matches.