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$1.95 Million Awarded to New Hampshire Guards Falsely Accused of Assaulting Prisoner

A New Hampshire jury awarded two former prison guards nearly $2 million upon finding that two of their co-workers had lied about a confrontation with a prisoner, which resulted in their firing.

After guards Shawn Stone and Todd Conner accused fellow prison guards Timothy Hallam and Joseph Laramie of participating in or failing to report an assault on prisoner Michael Kelly in April 2005, Hallam and Laramie were fired. Kelly claimed that he had been punched in the side and back while he was handcuffed.

A hearing in 2006 by the New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board determined that the prison’s investigation was contradictory and questionable. The Board found no wrongdoing by Hallam and Laramie, and ordered them to be reinstated to their job positions. Prison officials did not appeal the Board’s decision.

Hallam and Laramie then filed suit in state court against the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (NHDOC), Commissioner William Wren, and Stone and Conner. The court dismissed NHDOC and Wren as defendants but the case proceeded to trial against Conner and Stone.

It turned out that the prisoner had accused Stone and Conner of punching him, not Hallam or Laramie. “The inmate had actually accused both of the defendants of assaulting him, and their claim was in turn for self-preservation,” said Kevin Leonard, the attorney who represented Laramie and Hallam.

The jury’s May 19, 2008 verdict found Stone and Conner had “intentionally and improperly interfered” with Hallam and Laramie’s employment. The jury awarded Hallam $1.3 million in compensatory damages; Laramie was awarded $650,000. The disparity in the amounts was due to Hallam being “medically unable” to return to work, while Laramie had been reinstated as a prison guard. Both Stone and Conner are still employed by the NHDOC.

“First, they prevail at the Personnel Appeals Board, and now to have a jury of 14 Merrimack County residents agree with them – they’re both ecstatic,” said Leonard. New Hampshire taxpayers are the real losers, as they are on the hook to pay the verdict.

The state attempted to reduce the jury award in a post-trial motion, claiming that a statutory cap on liability for damages should apply pursuant to RSA 541-B:14. The defendants also argued that Leonard had made inappropriate remarks in his closing statement, including references to abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The court rejected those arguments in a September 30, 2008 ruling, finding the statutory cap did not apply and Leonard’s remarks were not improper. The $1.95 million total jury award was affirmed. The state has appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, with oral argument scheduled for January 13, 2010. See: Laramie v. Cattell and Hallam v. Cattell, Merrimack County Superior Court, Case Nos. 06-C-224 and 06-C-225.

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Related legal case

Laramie v. Cattell and Hallam v. Cattell

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.