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$25,000 Award to Utah Muslim Prisoner Attacked by Death Row Prisoner Following 9/11

A Utah federal jury awarded $25,000 to a Muslim prisoner who claimed guards set him up for a beating following the 9/11 guerrilla attacks. The oddest part of the situation is the prisoner was beat by a death row prisoner who was to be segregated from other prisoners.
The lawsuit stems from events at the Utah State Prison (USP) on September 20, 2001.
Following the 9/11 attacks, prisoner Jacques Miranda, a black practicing Muslim, was targeted by other prisoners and guards because of his religious beliefs. Guards were upset because Miranda was not feeling very patriotic due to being locked up.

They then began inciting death row prisoner Troy Kell, a white supremacist, to violence against Miranda. Kell was on death row for stabbing another black prisoner to death while guards watched.

On September 20, guards gave Kell two caricature drawings of Osama bin Laden, which he showed to other prisoners while on “rec time.” Guards were further upset when Miranda, an artist, refused to do similar drawings because of his religious beliefs.

Shortly after that refusal, guard R. Healey told Miranda to put his shoes on for the remainder of his rec time. Around 8:30, Healey opened Kell’s cell door. This violated all USP policies because Kell was a death row prisoner who was to be segregated from other prisoners. Miranda was only in segregation, and was released from prison on January 13, 2004.

Upon opening Kell’s door at his request, Healey said, “Okay, yeah, as long as you promise not to kill Miranda,:” and laughed. Kell promptly exited his cell and attacked Miranda, who fought back. Expecting a response team to enter, Miranda tried to avoid Kell. While they fought, Kell referred to Miranda “as a Muslim, as a rag head, as someone wanting to blow things up – all relating to what had upset the guards about Miranda.”

Miranda was finally able to get to his cell, but Healey did not unlock his door to be closed as requested. Kell entered Miranda’s cell, put him in a chokehold, and beat him to unconsciousness. Miranda later awoke in the prison infirmary. Kell wrote a statement that said guards wanted him to kill Miranda, that they created the situation to allow him to do so, and Kell chose not to kill him.

On March 6, 2009, the jury found Healey’s actions constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the federal and Utah constitutions. The damage award was for compensatory damages; they refused to award punitive damages. Miranda’s counsel, Salt Lake City attorney David S. Pace, was awarded $35,000 in fees and $5,058.54 in costs. See: Miranda v. Healey, USDC, D. Utah, Case No: 2:03-CV-1097

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Related legal case

Miranda v. Healey