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Massachussetts Pre-Trial Detainee Injured While Housed With Convicted Felons States Colorable Claim

William Smith, a pre-trial detainee in Berkshire County, Massachusetts was housed in a section of the jail where only those convicted of felonies were supposed to be kept, in violation of G.L. c. 127, Sec. 22. He was the only Black prisoner there, and he was seriously injured when one of the other prisoners assaulted him. He filed suit, pro se, in state court. A county commissioner testified on summary judgment that Smith was placed with convicted felons because certain funds were accidentally diverted to that section of the jail. The trial court found that fact to make it impossible for Smith to prove wrongdoing on the County's part and dismissed the case. Smith appealed.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts found that whether or not funds were inadvertently diverted to the wrong section of the jail had nothing to do with whether jailers were responsible for the injuries to Smith as a result of being wrongly housed with convicted felons. On that basis, the Court reversed the trial court's dismissal of the case. See: Smith v. Massimiano, 414 Mass. 81 (MA 1993).

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