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Jury Awards $80,001 to New Hampshire Prisoner for Guard Beating

On September 18, 2009, a federal jury awarded a New Hampshire state prisoner $80,000 in punitive damages for a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights, plus $1 in nominal damages.

While incarcerated at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men on December 20, 2003, Shawn Cheever was transferred to the facility’s Special Housing Unit (SHU). Upon his arrival at the SHU, Cheever could not stop crying.

In response to Cheever’s emotional state, two SHU guards, Michael Edmark and Kevin Valenti, taunted, harassed and psychologically abused him. Cheever also alleged that Edmark and Valenti assaulted him while he was handcuffed by repeatedly striking him “in the torso and ribs, slamming his head against the wall,” which caused him to lose consciousness. Cheever further said he was strapped naked to a “flat chair.”

In his federal complaint, Cheever argued that Edmark and Valenti’s actions were done “intentionally, maliciously, and sadistically” in violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Following a jury trial, a verdict was returned in favor of Cheever on his Eighth Amendment claim. The jury, however, concluded that no assault or battery had occurred. Cheever was awarded one dollar in nominal damages against both defendants, nothing in compensatory damages and $40,000 in punitive damages against each defendant, for a total award of $80,001.

On October 27, 2009, the district court awarded attorney fees in the amount of $27,340 plus $1,120 for paralegal fees and $1,177 in costs. Because Cheever was not incarcerated at the time the lawsuit was filed, the PLRA’s cap on attorney fees did not apply.

Cheever was represented by attorneys Lawrence A. Vogelman of Nixon, Raiche, Vogelman, Barry & Slawsky, P.A and Michael J. Sheehan. See: Cheever v. Edmark, U.S.D.C. (D. NH), Case No. 1:06-cv-0035l-JM.

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Related legal case

Cheever v. Edmark

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