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CCA Prisoner Awarded $3,250 in Excessive Force Lawsuit

A Louisiana U.S. District Court awarded $3,250 to a prisoner in a civil rights action that involved excessive use of force by a guard. The lawsuit was filed by Winn Correctional Center prisoner Derrick Levon Carter due to events that occurred on April 14, 2006. This case is unusual in that the guard, Norman Garrett, admitted the true facts of the incident. The Winn prison is operated by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA).

As Garrett was attempting to count prisoners in the infirmary, he became “enraged by the taunting of two other prisoners.” Garrett approached Carter in the infirmary waiting room and asked him for his identifying information. Carter testified that he answered fully, but Garrett claimed Carter only responded with “huh,” which he took as a continuation of the other prisoners’ taunting.

Already being angry, Garrett attacked Carter, “choking him around the neck or upper chest area and aggressively slamming or shoving him against the wall.” During a one-day bench trial in Carter’s subsequent lawsuit, no evidence was presented of any need for the application of force or a threat that Garrett could have perceived. Garrett “admittedly simply lost his cool and attacked the prisoner without any need or justification,” the district court found.

The level of force used by Garrett “exceeded what was required and allowed in response to a prisoners’ verbal communications, even if Mr. Carter’s response was sarcastic or dilatory,” the court stated, in finding that excessive force was used. The court noted one mitigating factor. “While Defendant lost his cool and attacked the prisoner maliciously and without provocation, his response could have been more violent than it was.” That, and the fact that Garrett did not try to cover up the incident and admitted his guilt, played a part in the relief granted to Carter.

As a result of Garrett’s excessive use of force, Carter incurred a “knot” on his head and light bruising around his neck where Garrett had choked him. He also suffered headaches, sleep deprivation and general mental problems that manifested in a negative attitude following the incident. The court found Carter’s injuries were credible, and held that while they “were likely not conspicuous or severe, they were more than de minimis, in common parlance, ‘minor.’”

The district court awarded Carter $1,250 in compensatory damages and $2,000 in punitive damages. Carter was represented by attorneys Ross S. Owen, Richard C. Goorley and Jeananne Self, who filed a motion for attorney fees and costs. Prior to the court’s December 8, 2010 judgment and damages award, Carter had been released from prison.

Garrett appealed the judgment to the Fifth Circuit, but his appeal was dismissed on March 7, 2011 for lack of prosecution after the parties reached a confidential settlement. See: Carter v. Wilkinson, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Louisiana), Case No. 1:06-cv-02150-DDD-JDK.

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Related legal case

Carter v. Wilkinson