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Court Enjoins Torture of Jail Prisoners

Two Mississippi jail prisoners tried to escape from the jail by smashing their way out. Their attempt failed and guards secured and restrained them in an interrogation cell. The sheriff questioned the two men as to the location of their escape tools, which had not been used in the attempt. When they did not cooperate he obtained a piece of coaxial cable and began beating them. They told the sheriff the escape tools were in a communal cell.

The sheriff and jail guards ordered the prisoners in the cell to produce the escape tools. When they refused the sheriff and guards searched their cell and found the tools. The sheriff ordered the five prisoners to strip naked from the waist down and whipped them for 10-15 minutes with the cable.

The prisoners filed suit claiming violation of their constitutional rights. They sought an injunction from the court enjoining beatings and torture.

The magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing. The defendants did not deny or dispute torturing the prisoners. Rather they claimed that jail officials can torture prisoners to coerce information needed to discover contraband or relevant to jail security. The court was not persuaded by this argument.

The court notes that the use of force and torture to extract information from prisoners is prohibited by the constitution regardless of its objectives.

The court granted an injunction enjoining torture at the county jail. The sheriff testified, under oath, that he would again torture prisoners under similar circumstances if he felt a need to do so. The court said this left it no choice but to issue the injunction.

The court gives a detailed explanation of the standard used in preliminary injunctions and why it was granted in this case.

The court also waived the requirement that a security bond be posted by the party seeking the injunction. It also awarded interim attorney fees to the plaintiff. See: Cohen v. Coahoma County, Mississippi, 805 F. Supp 398 (ND MISS 1992).

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Related legal case

Cohen v. Coahoma County Mississippi

MICHAEL COHEN, Individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiff v. COAHOMA COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, and ANDREW S. THOMPSON, JR., SHERIFF, Defendants

No. DC 91-198-B-O


805 F. Supp. 398; 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20670

September 28, 1992, Decided

September 28, 1992, Filed, Entered

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Adopting Magistrate's Document of August 31, 1992, Reported at 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20844.

JUDGES: Biggers



[*399] ORDER

Upon consideration of plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Motion for Preliminary Injunction, and the file and records in this action, the court finds that the Report and Recommendations of the United States Magistrate Judge dated August 31, 1992 was on that date duly served by regular mail upon counsel of record for plaintiff Michael Cohen and for defendants; that more than ten days have elapsed since service of said Report and Recommendations; and that no objection thereto has been filed or served by any party. The court is of the opinion that the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendations should be approved and adopted as the opinion of the court. It is, therefore


1. That the Report and Recommendations of the United States Magistrate Judge dated August 31, 1992 be, and it is hereby, approved and adopted as the opinion of the court.

2. That plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order be, and it is hereby, denied as moot.

[*400] 3. That plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction, be, and it is hereby, sustained, and that defendants Coahoma County, Mississippi and Andrew S. Thompson, Jr., Sheriff of Coahoma County, [**2] their subordinates and those acting in concert with them be, and they are hereby, enjoined, pending entry of final judgment in this action, from inflicting physical pain upon prisoners in the custody of the sheriff for the purpose of coercing information from such prisoners.

4. That plaintiff be, and is hereby, relieved of any duty to post security in connection with the preliminary injunction herein granted.

5. That defendants Coahoma County, Mississippi, and Andrew S. Thompson, Jr., Sheriff of Coahoma County, pay to plaintiff an interim award of his attorney fees and expenses reasonably incurred in obtaining preliminary injunctive relief. The issue of the amount of such attorney fees and expenses is hereby referred to United States Magistrate Judge J. David Orlansky for determination. Within 11 days of this date plaintiff shall serve an itemized affidavit of his said attorney fees and expenses, reasonably incurred by him in obtaining such relief. Defendants may serve any desired responses or counter affidavit within 11 days of the date of service of plaintiff's affidavit. The magistrate judge will thereafter enter an order fixing the amount of the expenses to be paid.

THIS, [**3] the 28th day of Sept., 1992.

Neal B. Biggers