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$35,000 Jury Award in Massachusetts Prisoner’s Assault by Guards

$35,000 Jury Award in Massachusetts Prisoner's Assault by Guards

A jury awarded a prisoner at the Massachusetts Correctional Facility at Walpole $35,000 for guards' negligence for failing to intercede to stop an excessive use of force.

After one guard began assaulting and beating prisoner Kenneth S. Bernstein, others guards joined in. Meanwhile, additional guards stood by watching and took no action. Bernstein brought suit against one of the guards, Derek Merkel, as well as the Commonwealth, alleging violation of his civil rights for excessive force and negligence by the guards who failed to intercede under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. Bernstein contended the guards violated their duty to take action when they witnessed his beating.

The guards alleged that Bernstein initiated the attack and was engaged in a fistfight when they intervened. Bernstein, however, said he was grabbed from behind by the guards, never threw a punch, and was held while the guards kicked him. Medical evidence supported Bernstein's version of events.

After trial, the jury found against the civil rights claims but in favor of the negligence claims. Bernstein was awarded $35,000 on May 19, 2006; his injuries at the hands of the guards included two broken ribs and a broken nose. He was represented by Boston attorney Valeriano Diviacchi. See: Bernstein v. Merkel, Massachusetts Suffolk County Court, Case No: 03-03965.

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Related legal case

Bernstein v. Merkel