AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities
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Officer Assault: By Inmate
An inmate was prosecuted
and convicted of assaulting a correctional officer by head-butting him
while arguing about a pat-down search. The prisoner unsuccessfully argued
self-defense at trial. Upholding the conviction, a federal appeals court
held that the trial court had erred in stating that a prisoner had to show
an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm before justifiably using
force in self-defense, but the trial court correctly found that the prisoner
had had a legal alternative to force in complying with the pat-down. No
one argued that the search itself had been a violation of his rights. United
States v. Waldman, #15-1756, 2016 U.S. App. Lexis 16058 (7th Cir.).
Two inmates tried to escape from a state prison and intentionally murdered a guard during the attempt. One of the prisoners had repeatedly escaped from a state juvenile school before entering the prison at age 15, and subsequently made escape attempts in prison. The other prisoner also had previously been found to have been planning an escape attempt. The estate of the deceased guard claimed that prison officials violated his substantive due process rights by failing to protect him against the murder and by having made various decisions to house the two prisoners in the general population, at times allegedly based on negotiations to end hunger strikes. A federal appeals court found that prison officials were properly granted qualified immunity on substantive due process claims. While paperwork was not always completed for discretionary housing decisions for the two prisoners, the warden had the power to move them. The correctional department's policy on warden discretion on inmate housing placement did not shock the conscience, and the warden did not act with deliberate indifference in failing to place the inmates in maximum security or allowing them to hold their prison jobs. Estate of Johnson v. Weber, #14-2383, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 7327 (8th Cir.).
A South Carolina prison guard was attacked and shot multiple times in his home, with the attack ordered by an inmate at the prison where he worked, using a contraband cell phone to talk to the shooter. The injured guard and his wife sued a number of cellular phone service providers and owners of cell phone towers in state court, asserting claims for negligence and loss of consortium. The lawsuit was removed to federal court, and claimed that the defendants were aware that their services and towers facilitated prisoners' illegal use of cell phones, creating an unreasonable risk of harm to others, including the plaintiff. A federal appeals court found that the trial court was erroneous in finding that there was federal question of jurisdiction over the claims, as the Federal Communication Act did not completely preempt the state law claims. The case was properly removed to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, but the plaintiffs failed to state a claim as a matter of law, since there was insufficient information about the specifics of what occurred. The plaintiffs did not identify the wireless service provider who carried the alleged call or when the alleged call occurred. "A wireless service provider would likely be unable to determine whether it carried the alleged call without more identifying information." If further investigation revealed new information, the plaintiffs were free to file a new lawsuit, but currently, the complaint "resembles a prohibited fishing expedition rather than a properly pleaded complaint." Johnson v. American Towers, LLC, #13-1872, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 4844 (4th Cir.).
A correctional officer was attacked by two prisoners while she was escorting them to a jail's law library. The library was located in a drunk tank cell with handles on the front and back of the door. She claimed that one of the prisoners threw her off balance when he grabbed the inside door handle, and the prisoners then took her hostage. The officer failed to prove that the attack was a "state created danger" with the incident facilitated by jail understaffing and a dangerous door handle in violation of due process. The alleged actions of the sheriff and county commissioners in allowing understaffing and the door handles did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference and were not shocking to the conscience. Fields v. Abbott, #10-2805, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 18027 (8th Cir.).
An prisoner attacked a corrections officer preparing to conduct a pat down search, punching her, knocking her to the ground, and taking her baton, which he used to strike her. The officer filed suit against the Ohio state Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. The court ruled that the Department had refuted the argument that its decisions regarding the deployment of security devices and staff members constituted conduct equivalent to an intent to exposure her to injury. These decisions were based on both safety concerns and financial constraints. The officer was experienced and capable and there was no evidence that the Department had reason to believe that she was "substantially certain" to be injured by coming into contact with the prisoner, or that the Department failed to act to remedy a dangerous condition. Abrams v. Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction, #2006-04679, 2010 Ohio Misc. Lexis 30 (Ct. of Claims).
A sheriff, captain, sergeant, and watch commander were not liable for a detainee's brutal attack on a female courtroom deputy, inflicting severe brain damage, when he was brought to the courtroom from a holding cell and disarmed her. The courtroom deputy, the appeals court noted, was not in custody, so that the failure to provide adequate security to prevent the attack violated her due process rights only if the defendants acted with deliberate indifference or engaged in conduct that was conscience shocking, which was not the case here. Further, the courtroom deputy was exposed to the danger of such an assault by the nature of her employment, and the claims against the defendants amounted to those similar to negligence, not deliberate indifference or conscience shocking behavior. Hall v. Freeman, No. 08-11238, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 18421 (Unpub. 11th Cir.).
New York's highest court upholds reversal of award of damages for death of two officers shot and killed by a prisoner transported from a correctional facility to a prosecutor's office for a polygraph test. In the lawsuit by the estates of the officers, the plaintiffs contended that their deaths were caused by the improper use of a detective squad's locker room as a prisoner detention area, which allowed the prisoner to gain access to the locker containing the gun because its lock was either open or defective, and that the city was therefore liable for violating state labor law and its own city code requiring that buildings be maintained in a safe condition. While a jury awarded verdicts of $5,226,252 for the survivors of one officer, and $8,975,625 for the second, these awards were overturned on appeal. The immediate decision upholds those reversals and held that a provision of state labor law imposing a general duty to furnish a workplace free from recognized hazards "does not cover the special risks faced by police officers because of the nature of police work." The court also rejected the argument that rules requiring building owners to maintain safe conditions could be used as a basis for liability in these circumstances. Williams v. City of New York, 811 N.E.2d 1103 (N.Y. 2004). [N/R]
Correctional officer was properly awarded $250,000 on his counterclaim against prisoner even though this exceeded the damages requested, in light of the unprovoked nature of the prisoner's attack and the seriousness of the "life-threatening" injuries suffered by the officer. Douglas v. McCarty, #03-6776, 87 Fed. Appx. 299 (4th Cir. 2003). [N/R]
254:21 Prison officials not liable for failure to protect officer against attack by prisoner who had threatened to kill him; while officer faced danger from assignment to cellblock in which prisoner was housed, this was a risk of his job. Wallace v. Adkins, 115 F.3d 427 (7th Cir. 1997).
Two deputies attacked by inmate they were transporting awarded $5.3 million against county; former deputy had supplied inmate with handgun and handcuff keys in order to aid escape attempt. Paradinovich v. Milwaukee Co., Circuit Court, Milwaukee, Wis., reported in the Milwaukee Sentinel, p. 1A (April 16, 1992).
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