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$875,001 Verdict in Beating of Massachusetts Prisoner

by David M. Reutter

Finding that a guard at Massachusetts’ Suffolk County House of Correction (SCHC) had violated a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment rights and committed assault and battery, a federal jury awarded the prisoner $875,001 in damages.

The 121-page complaint in this U.S. District Court action named 54 plaintiffs and 88 SCHC employees, and presented a wide range of constitutional violations. At issue for the jury were claims related to former prisoner Donnell Thompson.

While incarcerated at SCHC on October 22, 1999, a shakedown of Thompson’s unit began at around 1:00 p.m. During the shakedown all of the prisoners were locked in their cells, which lacked toilets. After his cell was “trashed” at 7:00 p.m., Thompson asked the unit guard, William Torres, if he could use the bathroom. Torres said no.

As Torres was sitting and reading magazines, Thompson again asked to use the bathroom at 8:30. Again he was denied. When Thompson was not allowed to use the bathroom a third time at 9:45, he began beating on his cell door. Minutes later, Torres and Lt. Basile pulled Thompson out of his cell.

Basile and Torres proceeded to punch and kick Thompson. Basile then “swept” Thompson’s feet out from under him and used his full body weight to drop his knee onto Thompson’s back, causing him to defecate on himself.

After Thompson was taken to segregation he asked if he could have some toilet paper. A guard responded, “Are you kidding?” Thompson was not allowed a shower or change of clothes for four days. His requests for medical attention for back, hip and knee pain were denied. Problems from those injuries have been persistent and ongoing since the beating.

On February 23, 2009, a federal jury found Torres had violated Thompson’s Eighth Amendment rights and had committed an assault and battery. The jury awarded Thompson $825,001 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages.

This case also included consolidated class action claims, which settled prior to Thompson’s trial. The settlement “provided for the implementation of a wide range of remedial changes by the Sheriff designed to prevent abusive conduct by correction officers in the future,” according to a November 27, 2007 order by the district court. See: Allen v. Rouse, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95887.

The court had previously ordered that the individual plaintiffs’ claims be tried in groups of five. Two other plaintiffs have lost at trial, one prevailed on a claim of assault and battery but was awarded no damages, and others have been dismissed on motions for summary judgment or because they could not be located. This case is ongoing and trials have been scheduled for the remaining plaintiffs.

The former prisoners are represented by attorneys Theodore H. Gougen, Jr., Joseph Mahaney and Sean T. Gougen of the Gougen, McLaughlin, Richards and Mahaney law firm. See: Allen v. Rouse, USDC (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:00-cv-10981-RWZ.

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Related legal cases

Allen v. Rouse

Allen v. Rouse