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Beating, Pepper Spraying of Prisoners on Bus Ride Upheld

The plaintiff was "subdued" after protesting the treatment of another prisoner in the yard. The next day, he and other inmates were put shackled on a bus for transfer, and some of the prisoners created a disturbance on the bus. The main defendant "fired a two second burst of pepper mace down the middle of the bus." The inmates were not allowed to wash the mace off until the end of the bus ride three hours later. The district court found for the defendants on the yard incident but for the plaintiff on the bus incident. It labelled his injuries "minor" and did not award damages; instead, the main defendant was ordered to attend excessive force training and the Secretary of Corrections, who was no longer a defendant, was ordered to place a reprimand in his file and make sure he got the training.

The finding for the plaintiff was clearly erroneous. The finding of de minimis injury does not compel a finding of de minimis force; "minor" is not de minimis. But it was clearly erroneous to find that the defendant's actions were not a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, since the prisoners involved had been involved in the yard incident and the bus was in an unfenced area. Even accepting that only one or two inmates were involved in the disturbance, the force was not excessive. The reason for not letting the inmates off to wash off the mace was "more than reasonable": the defendant was afraid that inmates would engage in further disruptions and disturbance, and no one requested medical assistance. Air movement is an approved way of ameliorating the effect of mace, and they left the bus windows open during the trip. "[P]erhaps most importantly," the finding of minor injury confirms the reasonableness of that decision. See: Baldwin v. Stalder, 137 F.3d 836 (5th Cir. 1998).

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Related legal case

Baldwin v. Stalder