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Seventh Circuit: Routine Erasure of Prison Security Tapes Does Not Warrant Sanctions

Seventh Circuit: Routine Erasure of Prison Security Tapes Does Not Warrant Sanctions

by Michael Brodheim

The Seventh Circuit has held that a district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied a prisoner’s motion for sanctions based on the erasure of prison security tapes that allegedly would have provided evidence in support of the prisoner’s claim that he had been subjected to excessive force. The appellate court held that sanctions are warranted only when evidence is destroyed in bad faith, i.e., “for the purpose of hiding adverse information,” and that there was no evidence that the disputed videos had been destroyed for reasons other than routine prison policy.

Larry Bracey, incarcerated at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, was injured during an altercation with guards in July 2005. The incident was recorded by prison security cameras but the video footage was erased when the cameras recorded over it about three days later.

Bracey filed suit in 2010, alleging that the guards had used excessive force against him in violation of the Eighth Amendment. As the trial approached he filed a motion for sanctions, arguing that he was entitled to an adverse inference jury instruction because the security tapes of the incident had not been preserved by prison officials, which, he claimed, constituted spoliation of evidence.

The district court denied Bracey’s motion because “none of the individual defendants were involved in the decision not to preserve the video.”

Bracey lost at trial and appealed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, declining Bracey’s invitation that it join several other circuits – including the Sixth and Ninth – in adopting a standard that would not condition an adverse inference instruction on a showing of bad faith.

The Court of Appeals also rejected Bracey’s challenge to the district court’s denial of his motion to appoint counsel, even though the defendants had refused to produce certain documents in discovery due to “security” concerns which could have been produced had he been represented by counsel. The appellate court noted that Bracey had other options, including a renewed motion for appointment of counsel and motion to reopen discovery, which he did not pursue. See: Bracey v. Grondin, 712 F.3d 1012 (7th Cir. 2013), rehearing denied, cert. denied.


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Related legal case

Bracey v. Grondin