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Texas Gang Member Lockdown Without Hearing Upheld

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld summary Judgment to prison officials on a Texas prisoner's involuntary administrative segregation claims.

In March 2002, Texas prison officials learned that rival Hispanic gangs the Texas Syndicate (TS) and Raza Unida (RU), were planning a gang war.

In late March 2002, RU members assaulted and killed a TS member. Immediately thereafter, all suspected TS and RU members and affiliates were locked down, "for the safety of the suspected gang members and others in the prison system."

In April 2002, Robert Hernandez was identified as a suspected TS member and locked down. His file indicated that "he had been a suspected TS member since June of 2001." The Security Threat Group (STG) "had received a handwritten communication from Hernandez dated April 3, 2002, in which Hernandez admitted he was a TS 'helper' in the past, though he claimed he had never become a full-fledged 'member" and had since withdrawn from the TS completely." A November 2002 cell search also "turned up evidence suggesting a possible TS association."

"Hernandez remained in lockdown until July 2003, when he met with the STG officer to ask that questionable information be removed from his file. At that time the STG officer determined that the initial 'screen' linking Hernandez to the TS actually applied to another inmate surnamed Hernandez. Robert Hernandez was removed from lockdown and his record was cleared of the suspected TS status."

On June 13, 2003, Hernandez brought federal suit alleging that he was denied a hearing or review of his lockdown status. He also claimed that the deprivation of outdoor and out-of-cell exercise for 13 months violated the Eighth Amendment. The district court granted prison officials summary judgment.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded "that Hernandez cannot show deliberate indifference ... because there is no record evidence he was ever placed at 'substantial risk of serious harm.'

The court also rejected Hernandez's due process claim, concluding that "temporary lockdown designed to prevent gang-related violence is to be expected as an ordinary incident of prison life… Accordingly, he has not alleged a deprivation of a cognizable liberty interest." See: Hernandez v. Velasquez, 522 F.3d 556 (5th Cir. 2008).

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Related legal case

Hernandez v. Velasquez