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Nevada Prisoner Awarded $18,700 For Retaliation Claim

On October 14, 2005, a federal jury in Nevada awarded $18,700 to a state prisoner who suffered a retaliatory transfer and punishment after he voiced complaints about the prison?s food and grievance procedures.

According to the lawsuit, prisoner Phillip Lyons was elected president of the NAACP?s local prison chapter, the Universal Revitalization Organization (URO), while imprisoned at the High Desert State Prison (HDSP) in 2002. In May 2003, after fruitless meetings with prison warden James Schomig, Lyons wrote a letter to then Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) Director Jackie Crawford asking her to investigate ?the culinary conditions and grievance procedure problems at HDSP.?

Two days after mailing the letter Lyons was called to Schomig?s office. In the office Schomig threatened and berated Lyons for going over his bead to the director. After finishing his diatribe Schomig ordered a nearby prison guard to place Lyons in administrative segregation and search his property. All of Lyons? material relating to the NAACP and the URO was confiscated. He also spent the next 20 days in segregation and was transferred to the Lovelock Correctional Center. At Lovelock Lyons? security level was reduced from Level 1 to Level 3.

Throughout the ordeal Lyons was never charged with a single infraction of prison rules. Moreover, prison officials failed to respond to any of the prison grievances Lyons filed between May 22, 2003, and August 14, 2003.

With no help from prison officials, Lyons filed a pro se suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on March 1, 2004. In the complaint, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, Lyons alleged that Warden Schomig violated his rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments by interfering with his right to petition the government for redress of grievances (i.e., his letter of complaint to the Director), subjecting him to unreasonable search and seizure, and failing to provide him with due process.

The jury sided with Lyons and awarded him $1,200 in compensatory damages and $17,500 in punitive damages against the warden. Total award: $18,700. An appeal by the state was dropped on February 7, 2006, after the defendants reached an unspecified settlement agreement with Lyons. See: Lyons v. Schomig, USDC D NV, Case No. 03:03-cv-0577-RAM.

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Related legal case

Lyons v. Schomig