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Tennessee CCA Warden Denied Summary Judgment for Excessive Force

A Tennessee federal court denied a private prison warden summary judgment on an excessive force claim for assaulting a handcuffed prisoner.

James Ingram was a prisoner at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF) in Tennessee, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), America's largest private prison operator.

On May 16, 2007, approximately 15 HCCF guards were injured when a disturbance involving 186 prisoners and 200 staff erupted in the chapel. Ingram claims that he was returning to his housing unit and was not involved, but prison officials think otherwise.

Former HCCF Warden Glen Turner identified the prisoners involved as possible Vice Lords gang members. Ingram's "name was at the top of a list of Vice Lords leaders given to Turner… by the HCCF Security Threat Group Coordinator." Turner believed Ingram "was directly involved in the disturbance and may have instigated it."

Ingram was handcuffed and taken to a backroom where HCCF officials demanded that he identify those responsible for the disturbance. Turner admits that he attempted to "interview" Ingram immediately after the riot to discover his involvement and the reasons for the disturbance.

"During one portion of the interview I felt that Mr. Ingram was not understanding the importance of what was going on. I was attempting to get him to cooperate, and Mr. Ingram was knocked out of a chair to the floor," Turner admitted during a deposition. "I knelt down over the top of him, and I struck him one time on the right side of his face." Turner also admitted that Ingram's hands were still cuffed behind his back and he had not been assaultive toward staff. Given the riot, however, Turner believes he was justified in striking Ingram, because he needed to know whether the "incident was a diversion for something more serious, or whether an inmate would use the incident as a diversionary opportunity to murder a staff member or another inmate."

Ingram sustained a small laceration to his left eye, with some swelling and bruising. His requests for medical attention were initially denied, but he was seen about two hours later. A nurse cleaned the eye and determined that stitches were unnecessary, but asked Ingram if he wanted stitches anyway. He declined and received no further treatment.

Turner locked Ingram in administrative segregation and said he would ensure that Ingram was "maxed out." Two days later, on May 18, 2007, Ingram was transferred to the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP), where he was placed on maximum security without a hearing.

Turner was ultimately indicted for assault and pled guilty. Ingram then brought federal suit, alleging excessive force, denial of medical care, retaliation and other claims.

The district court denied Defendants summary judgment on the excessive force claim, noting that an "individual's right to be free from gratuitous assault while under control and hand-cuffed during an interrogation cannot be disputed." Additionally, "using force to coerce information from a restrained inmate is inappropriate."

The court granted summary judgment on the medical care claim because "there is no evidence in the record that Plaintiff's injury was anything more than minor, and no evidence that the two-hour delay in treatment had any adverse effect on Plaintiff. Thus, his injury did not rise to the level of a serious medical need."

The court found that Ingram's retaliation claim was actually a claim that he was placed in ad-seg without due process protections. The court denied that claim, finding that Ingram "entered a plea of guilty to the disciplinary charge of participation in a Security Threat Group, signing an 'Agreement to Plead Guilty and Waiver of Disciplinary Hearing and Due Process Rights.'" This "voluntary admission is sufficient to satisfy the due process requirement that 'some evidence' be introduced in support of the decision of a disciplinary board," the court held.

Finally, the court granted CCA summary judgment on a claim that it failed to train and supervise Turner or to adequate investigate and discipline him for his conduct. See: Ingram v. Turner, USDC No. 07-2798-JDT-egb (W D Tenn 3/31/10).

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Related legal case

Ingram v. Turner