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Pennsylvania Prisoner Awarded $185,000 in Civil Rights Claim; Harassment Continues

by David M. Reutter

A Pennsylvania federal jury has awarded $185,000 to a prisoner in a civil rights action alleging conspiracy, retaliation, obstruction of access to the courts and defamation of character.

Pennsylvania state prisoner Andre Jacobs prosecuted the lawsuit pro se. His complaint involved events that occurred at SCI-Western in the Long Term Segregation Unit. Jacobs’ problems began on September 15, 2003 when guard Frank Cherico confiscated 151 pages of Jacobs’ legal documents from prisoner Eric Lyons.

The documents were seized on the grounds that prisoners are prohibited from assisting one another in legal cases unless recognized as a “legal aide.” Guard Gregory Giddens responded to Jacobs’ grievance challenging the seizure by saying he was a “fabricator” because only two pages had been seized.

Jacobs, however, had also written to prison guard Thomas McConnell, who acknowledged the seizure and implied the pages would be returned. Giddens, McConnell and Cherico then destroyed documentation regarding the seizure to make it appear that it never occurred. The conspiracy was enhanced by prison employee Carol A. Scire appointing Giddens as the grievance officer overseeing Jacobs’ complaint.

The confiscated legal papers concerned a lawsuit Jacob planned to file against Giddens, Scire and other prison officials. Those documents and others were needed to prove claims in two other lawsuits, which Jacobs lost as a result of the destruction of his documentary evidence.

In November 2008, Jacobs proceeded to trial on his claims. The jury exonerated ten prison officials but found in Jacobs’ favor on claims against Giddens, McConnell and Scire. It found against Giddens and McConnell on Jacobs’ access to court claim; against Giddens, McConnell and Scire on the conspiracy and retaliation claims; and against Giddens on the defamation claim. The jury awarded a total of $185,000 in damages.

On September 21, 2009, however, the district court entered judgment as a matter of law on the access claim for McConnell and Giddens and on the conspiracy claim for McConnell and Scire. This resulted in the following modified awards: conspiracy – Giddens, $10,000 each for mental harm, property damage and punitive damages; retaliation – McConnell, $5,000 each for mental harm, property damage and punitive damages; Giddens, $10,000 each for mental harm, property damage and punitive damages; defamation – Giddens, $10,000 each for mental anguish and humiliation, harm to reputation and punitive damages; and Scire for $5,000 each for mental harm and punitive damages. The modified award totaled $115,000.

Within days after the verdict, Jacobs said he was harassed by guards who filed “false disciplinary reports” against him and placed him on “restricted release,” which means he will be held in solitary confinement until his release date. This case remains pending with post-trial motions filed by both parties. See: Jacobs v. McConnell, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:04-01366-JFC.

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Related legal case

Jacobs v. McConnell