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Summary Judgment Denied in Virginia Strip Cell Suit

A Virginia Federal District Court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment in a prisoner’s lawsuit alleging use of excessive force and cruel and unusual conditions.

Ray L. Holley, a prisoner at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia, on September 29, 2007, was observed smoking a cigarette and ordered by prison guards to submit to restraints. Guards searched Holley and his cell for tobacco contraband. A folder containing religious material and lessons were confiscated. Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) considers Holley’s religion, the Five Percent Nation of Islam, also known as the Nation of Gods and Earth, gang-related.

After the shakedown, Holley returned to his cell and flooded it. When guards arrived at the cell, he did not at first submit to restraints, but later complied. He was stripped of his clothing and placed in a smock. His cell was stripped of all property, bedding and hygiene materials. He was then placed in “ambulatory restraints,” which consisted of metal handcuffs, ankle shackles, a chain that connects the two, a black box placed on the handcuffs to restrict movement, and a master padlock placed on the black box. Holley states he remained in this condition for thirty-six hours.

Due to his religious beliefs, Holley also submitted an application to be placed on Common Fare Diet, which was denied.

In their motion for summary judgment, the defendants claimed they were entitled to qualified immunity. The court held they were not, finding a jury could determine the use of excessive force, the application of restraints and submitting Holley to cruel and unusual living conditions. Force was not required on this occasion and his placement in a stripped cell and shackles for approximately two days was greatly out of proportion to any need of force in response to his behavior, the court said.

In regard to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and First Amendment Claims, the court found that if the facts are proven, a jury could conclude that confiscation of Holley’s material and denial of the Common Fare Diet does place a substantial burden on his ability to practice his religion. The court denied the guards’ motion for summary judgment.

See: Ray L. Holley, Jr. v. Gene Johnson, U.S.D.C. Western Dist. Virginia, Case No. 7:08-cv-00629.

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Related legal case

Ray L. Holley, Jr. v. Gene Johnson