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No Qualified Immunity for Michigan Prisoner’s Heat-Dehydration Death

No Qualified Immunity for Michigan Prisoner's Heat-Dehydration Death

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to eleven prison officials in the isolation, dehydration and death of a Michigan prisoner.

A "heat alert" was issued for Ionia Michigan from June 29, 2002 to July 5, 2002 because temperatures exceeded 85 degrees. The Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility (BCCF) is located in Ionia and subject to the alert.

On June 19, 2002, BCCF prisoner Jeffrey Clark collapsed outside the chow hall while waiting in line. He was crying and incoherent. Guards believed he had mental, rather than physical, problems and took him by wheelchair to an observation cell.

While in the cell, Clark barked like a dog and screamed. Guards believed he was "faking" while others believed he needed psychological services.

When guards "attempted to move Clark to his regular cell, Clark 'stiffened up and his legs just gave out.'" Guards believed Clark "planned to leave his cell and was 'a manipulator.'" He was returned to the observation cell.

For some reason, on June 30, 2002, the water in the observation cell was turned off. Clark was banging on the door, barking, yelling and unresponsive. No attempt was made to determine if he was receiving psychiatric care.

On July 1, 2002, Clark was still "acting very strange, talking and yelling at himself." He had not slept in at least 16 hours and was drinking from his toilet. Staff again believed Clark was acting out to manipulate his way into a transfer.

On July 2, 2002, the water remained off in Clark's cell. He urinated on the floor, refused meals and his "cell was 'trashed.'" He continued to refuse food on July 3, 2002. Dried food was smeared on the walls and floor. Clark continued "to act in an odd manner, but he" was less aggressive. Staff again concluded "Clark was a 'manipulator,'" who "was 'trying to have things his way.'" Clark died of dehydration on July 4, 2002. Rigor mortis set in before he was found in the "observation cell."

Clark's estate brought suit, alleging deliberate indifference to his medical needs. On summary judgment, the district court denied qualified immunity to 15 defendants.

The Sixth Circuit, on interlocutory appeal, affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to eleven defendants and reversed as to four defendants. The court found "a triable issue of fact exists over whether 11 of the defendants showed deliberate indifference to Clark's health and safety needs," and "it should come as no surprise that Clark had a clearly established right not to be deprived of" food, water and medical care. See: Clark-Murphy v. Foreback, 439 F.3d 280 (6th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Clark-Murphy v. Foreback