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BOP Settles Prisoner Beating/Restraint Lawsuit for $99,000

BOP Settles Prisoner Beating/Restraint Lawsuit For $99,000

In the summer of 1997, Lealon Muldrow was incarcerated in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) of the United States Penitentiary (USP) at Atlanta .On July 1 of that year, Muldrow was threatened with being chained down because the other prisoner in his cell was kicking their cell door .Lt .Dony Cartrette ordered Muldrow and his cellmate to submit to handcuffs by putting their wrists through the cuffport of their cell door .Both prisoners complied with this order and were handcuffed behind their backs.

The door to Muldrow's cell was opened after he and his cellmate were cuffed .Cartrette and other guards under his supervision rushed into the cell, grabbed Muldrow by the handcuffs and the back of his head, shoved him against the wall, and shouted obscenities at him .Because Muldrow refused to kneel down, the guards threw him on the ground and shackled his legs.

Although Muldrow was fully shackled and laying face down on the floor, Cartrette jumped on his back, grabbed the back of his head, and slammed his face into the concrete floor and against the steel bed frame beside him .As a result of this assault, Muldrow suffered multiple bruises on his face, head, and body .His forehead was also cut and bled profusely .Cartrette ordered two guards to take Muldrow to a medical unit for treatment.

Two physician's assistants examined Muldrow and stitched the wound to his forehead .Muldrow was then placed in a holding cell .He did not struggle or resist in any way .Muldrow was left in this cell for some time, still wearing his bloodied T-shirt.

Although Muldrow was calm and unresisting, a Special Operations Response Team (SORT) assembled outside the cell where he was being held and began preparing to "extract" him .A SORT is a group of four to eight staff members whose job includes placing a prisoner in four-point restraints .After a prisoner is placed in four-point restraints he is forcibly taken to a small cell called a "side pocket" and chained to a steel bunk, spread-eagle and naked.

Lt .Marvin Battley led the SORT that took Muldrow to a side pocket .Muldrow was kept chained and naked for more than five days .He was not allowed out of the restraints for the first three days, and was thus forced to urinate and defecate on himself during that time .After those first three days, he was allowed to use the toilet only sporadically .On the sixth day of his ordeal, Muldrow was taken out of the four-point restraints and placed in ambulatory restraints, including a "black box" (solid handcuffs), waist chain, and shackles.

As a result of this excessive force, Muldrow suffered severe physical pain and distress .He was unable to clean or otherwise tend to the wound on his forehead .He experienced dizziness and headaches .His body became extremely sore and stiff, a condition exacerbated by the injuries he received when Lt .Cartrette had beaten him.

Muldrow sued the BOP and the USP Atlanta .He was represented by attorneys Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and Courtland L .Reichman of the Atlanta firm King & Spalding .During their investigation of the case, Muldrow's attorneys discovered that BOP officials routinely held prisoners in four-point restraints for days, weeks, or even months, and that at least one prisoner had died while in the restraints .Many prisoners were placed in the restraints for relatively minor rule violations, such as throwing water on a staff member, kicking on the cell door, or pushing a food tray out of the door slot.

The BOP decided to settle with Muldrow for $99,000 less than a month before trial .Both Bright and Reichman agreed that the looming trial pushed the BOP to settle ."We were going to do a lot of depositions [before trial] and a lot more discovery," Bright said .He surmised that prison officials were likely afraid of what would be revealed during discovery and trial.

"While the money cannot erase our client's suffering, it should send a loud and clear message to the Bureau of Prisons that they cannot torture prisoners and get away with it," said Bright .Reichman commented that it was "shocking" that federal officials would allow such abuses to go unchecked, but that he was glad "to see the government step up and settle such an egregious case _ it's the right thing to do."

Two other prisoners who suffered similar abuse also filed suit against the BOP, but those actions were dismissed because the prisoners failed to properly exhaust their administrative remedies via the BOP's internal grievance procedure .The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 requires courts to dismiss the claims of prisoners who do not exhaust every step of a prison's grievance procedure .Bright has written to the U.S .Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to repeal the PLRA because it effectively leaves many prisoners unable to vindicate fundamental human rights violations and discourages lawyers from representing them .See: Muldrow v. Keohane , No. 1-98-CV-0919BBM (N.D. Ga. 1998).

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Related legal case

Muldrow v. Keohane