Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

No Qualified Immunity for Denial of Protective Custody to Ohio Prisoner

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s denial of qualified immunity in an Ohio prisoner’s lawsuit raising a failure to protect claim.

Ohio prisoner George Hamilton was the target of a “hit” by the Aryan Brotherhood (AB), “because [a] document from his cell had been used to prosecute Daryl Bocock – who, along with Daryl’s brother, Jesse, is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood – for the murder of Hamilton’s friend, Sam Huffman.” Hamilton first learned of the hit from his ex-girlfriend, Paula Cremeans, the Bococks’ sister.

In November 2003, Hamilton received a letter threatening his life and bearing “two lightning bolts, emblematic of the Aryan Brotherhood.” He reported the letter to prison officials, told them about the hit and said AB members had previously assaulted him and repeatedly tried to stab him at another prison.

Prison staff initiated “protective control” (PC) proceedings. Although the PC screening committee “believed that Hamilton had authored the letter himself,” it recommended placing him in PC. The recommendation was sent to the Ohio Department of Reha-bilitation and Corrections’ Bureau of Classification for final approval.

Jack Bendolph reviewed the recommendation and “questioned the risk that Hamilton faced, because Hamilton had kept Cremeans – the Bococks’ sister – on his visitor list, and because some … staff thought that Hamilton had sent him-self the threatening letter.”

Bendolph denied PC placement and on December 17, 2003, transferred Hamilton to general population at the Warren Cor-rectional Institution (WCI). At WCI, Hamilton met a prisoner named Sain, “who turned out to be a ‘leprechaun,’ which is a mem-ber of the Aryan Brotherhood without tattoos or other identifying marks.”

On July 3, 2004, Sain gave Hamilton some “hooch” and told him “to go into the yard’s recreation shed. Inside, mem-bers of the Aryan Brotherhood attacked and brutally assaulted Hamilton.” The ambush left him with impaired senses of smell, vision, hearing and taste, plus mental health problems and headaches.

Hamilton sued Bendolph in federal court, alleging that he had violated the Eighth Amendment by failing to protect him from a substantial risk of serious harm. The district court denied Bendolph qualified immunity, “holding that a genuine is-sue of material fact existed as to whether Bendolph’s decision not to place Hamilton in PC rose to the level of a constitu-tional violation.” Bendolph filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Sixth Circuit first considered “whether Hamilton was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of se-rious harm” and concluded that the record would support such a finding, which satisfied the objective component of his claim.

The appellate court also found that “Bendolph was undisputedly aware of the threatening letter, the Committee’s find-ings, and the recommendations of both the Committee and the warden that Hamilton be placed in PC.” But most impor-tantly, the Court noted that “Bendolph testified he knew that the Aryan Brotherhood exists throughout the Ohio prison sys-tem, and that their ‘hits’ could follow a prisoner from one prison to another.” Therefore, “a jury could certainly find … that Bendolph was aware of facts from which he could have inferred that Hamilton faced a substantial risk of serious harm,” satisfying the subjective component of a failure to protect claim.

The Sixth Circuit rejected each of the reasons asserted by Bendolph that “his decision to transfer Hamilton to WCI’s general population was a reasonable response to the risk that Hamilton faced.” Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the denial of qualified immunity in an August 2009 ruling, and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: Hamilton v. Eleby, 341 Fed.Appx. 168 (6th Cir. 2009).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Hamilton v. Eleby