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MT Prisoners Win Damages and Fees in Riot Suit

On April 2, 1998, a federal jury in Montana ruled that state prison officials had violated the Eighth amendment rights of 13 prisoners. In September, 1991, a riot occurred at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. Five prisoners in protective custody were killed by other prisoners during the uprising.

Eighteen days later prison officials took five prisoners they suspected of trying to start another riot and stripped them naked, hog tied them with handcuffs and chains and left them on bare concrete floors or steel bunks for up to 43 hours. A federal jury held this treatment violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment and awarded each prisoner $1,006 in damages.

In a separate suit, the jury held Montana prison officials had violated the Eighth Amendment rights of eight prisoners who were strip searched in an abusive manner after the riot. The jury awarded each of these prisoners $73 in damages. One of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Palmer Hoovestal, said the amount of damages was not important. "What was important for us was that this was a constitutional claim and a finding that the Eighth Amendment was violated," he said.

Montana prison officials later agreed to pay Hoovestal and co-counsel David Ness $122,750 in attorney fees and costs for their representation of the prevailing prisoner plaintiffs. These rulings follow earlier settlements the Montana DOC reached with the families of riot victims. [ PLN , Sep. 1997. "Montana Paying for 1991 Uprising."]

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