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Arkansas Prisoner Awarded $1 a Day Plus Costs for Unconstitutional Lockdown

On June 19, 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas awarded $182 to a Benton County prisoner who spent 6 months in disciplinary segregation without a hearing or periodic reviews.

Plaintiff Phetpinthong Senesackda claimed that on October 1, 2004, he was falsely accused of assaulting guard Michael Lisenbee at the Benton County Detention Center. The alleged assault occurred while Senesackda was serving a 10-day sentence in "the hole" for disobeying a direct order.

Senesackda remained in segregation until he was transferred to the Arkansas Department of Corrections on April 7, 2005, to serve a 24-year sentence for probation violation, manufacturing a controlled substance, commercial burglary and theft by receiving. Senesackda also pled guilty to battery for assaulting Lisenbee, but claimed he only did so to avoid receiving additional prison time.

In his lawsuit, filed pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Senesackda alleged he never received a hearing or the required periodic reviews while in lockdown following the supposed assault. Captain Hunter Petray, the jail's administrator, admitted that no disciplinary report was ever prepared against Senesackda. He also stated that "there was some confusion" about whether Senesackda was in disciplinary or administrative segregation. Petray said further that prisoners in administrative segregation are generally reviewed monthly.

In deciding the case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Beverly Stites Jones first noted that the issue turned on whether Senesackda was in disciplinary or administrative segregation. Citing 7th Circuit precedent she held that pre-trial detainees placed in segregation as punishment must be provided with notice and an opportunity to be heard in order to meet due process requirements. However, no process is required if the prisoner is placed in segregation for "managerial" reasons.

In Senesackda's case, Judge Jones determined that it "appears clear from the testimony that there was an intent to punish Senesackda for his actions in taking part in the assault on Lisenbee." Jones continued saying that "'a pre-trial detainee is entitled to the procedural protections of Wolff v. McDonnel, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974), before imposition of punishment for a disciplinary infraction.'" As for Senesackda, Jones held, it was undisputed that he did not receive any type of hearing regarding his placement in segregation from October 7, 2004 through April 7, 2005. Thus, his right to due process was violated.

With regard to damages, Judge Jones reasoned that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) precluded recovery of all but nominal compensatory damages for mental and emotional injuries unless there is an accompanying physical injury. Jones therefore recommended awarding compensatory damages of $1 for each of the 182 days Senesackda spent in segregation. Jones further reasoned that punitive damages were not warranted because the due process violations were not the result of "evil motive or intent" and did not involve reckless or callous indifference to Senesackda's constitutional rights. Jones did, however, recommend ordering the defendants to reimburse Senesackda's $250 filing fee. The District Court adopted Stile's Report and Recommendation in full.

See: Senesackda v. Petray, USDC WD AR, Case No. 05-5009.

Additional source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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Related legal case

Senesackda v. Petray