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Prolonged Bench Restraint and Excessive Pepper Spraying Requires Trial

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a grant of summary judgment to prison officials in a prisoner’s lawsuit alleging Eighth Amendment violations when guards restrained him on a bench for 24 hours for refusing to accept a cell mate, and for pepper spraying him for refusing orders.

Before the appellate court was the appeal of Darrin Scott Walker, a prisoner at Missouri’s South Central Correctional Center. After Walker was handcuffed and moved from a one-man cell to a two-man cell, he slipped out of the handcuffs and refused to be recuffed because he did not want to be celled with the other prisoner.

The Court of Appeals found it was undisputed that Walker was restrained in an upright position on a bench for 24 hours. During that period he was denied water (except when he was allowed to use the bathroom at 1 p.m. one day and at 9:30 a.m. the next day), and denied food. The Court found that this treatment, which was designed to force Walker to agree to cell with another prisoner, was trial-worthy to determine if it was an excessive and disproportionate use of force.

The Eighth Circuit further found a jury should determine whether the use of pepper spray on Walker constituted excessive force. In a separate incident, Walker had refused three orders by guard Marc Knarr to surrender his cell mate’s food tray, and had refused to move away from the food port. Without warning, Knarr sprayed pepper spray around the port with a super-soaker used for riot situations. Walker was sprayed in the face as he was moving away from the food port, and his entire cell was soaked with pepper spray.

Afterwards, the undisputed facts showed that Walker was not allowed to shower and was not given clean clothes or bedding for three days. He could only wash in his cell sink; this caused him to suffer red, peeling and itchy skin, which required the use of hydrocortisone cream for months.

The Eighth Circuit held that the district court had improperly granted summary judgment against Walker on these claims, which required a trial. The case was remanded for further proceedings and the district court was ordered to consider appointing counsel to assist Walker in obtaining access to videotapes and reports, and to identify a John Doe defendant. See: Walker v. Bowersox, 526 F.3d 1186 (8th Cir. 2008).
The trial in this case is scheduled for November 9, 2009.

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Related legal case

Walker v. Bowersox