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Mississippi Jail Prisoner Wins $3,000,000 in Failure to Protect Suit

The Hinds County Board of Supervisors (Board) agreed to settle a three-million-dollar federal lawsuit filed by a former prisoner in the Hinds County Jail after he was left paralyzed by a beating at the hands of other prisoners in March 2007. The five-member Board voted four-to-one to settle the case in a closed session on Monday, April 21, 2008.

On March 12, 2007, then twenty-three-year-old Michael Abram Burnley, Jr. was a Mississippi State prisoner awaiting trial in the Hinds County lock-up in Raymond on a charge of shooting into an occupied dwelling. Just after seven pm that evening John Earl Kennedy, a violent Harrison County prisoner who’d been transferred to Hinds County, jimmied the faulty lock on Burnley’s cell door and assaulted him. Kennedy repeatedly picked up Burnley and body slammed him to the floor, leaving him paralyzed from mid-chest down.

On October 9, 2007, attorney Ellis Turnage of Cleveland, Mississippi filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on Burnley’s behalf. He sought five million dollars in damages, arguing that jail guards had deprived him of his right to personal safety under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by failing to keep the lock on his cell door in good repair, thereby failing to protect him from Kennedy.

Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin admitted that the jail’s cell door locks were faulty and had been an ongoing problem since the jail opened in 1994.Undersheriff, Bill Gowan said the locks were nearly all fixed, to the tune of about $20,000.

Board member Doug Anderson said in a press release that he thought the three-million-dollar settlement “was about the best deal [they] were going to get.” He also said that he didn’t know “where [the financially strapped county was] going to get the money” to pay the settlement.

The county’s insurance company will pay the first one million dollars. But since the county’s reserve fund has only about seven hundred thousand dollars in it, the county will have to pay off the other two million in installments. The first installment of three hundred thousand dollars was paid in May of this year.

Kennedy is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence in the state penitentiary at Parchman, Mississippi for the assault. See: Burnley v. Hinds County, Mississippi, USDC SDMS, Case No. 3:07-cv-599.

Additional Source: Clarion-Ledger

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Burnley v. Hinds County, Mississippi


 

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