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Cook County Detainee’s Suit Alleging Deliberate Indifference to Safety Survives Summary Judgment

Cook County Detainee’s Suit Alleging Deliberate Indifference to Safety Survives Summary Judgment

by David M. Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to a jail guard accused of being deliberately indifferent to a prisoner’s safety.

The case involved an incident that occurred at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois. The plaintiff, pretrial detainee Uvion Junior, was housed in a maximum-security tier at the facility with 19 two-man cells. To minimize “detainee incidents,” no more than 20 of the 38 prisoners on the tier were allowed to use the dayroom area at the same time.

When guard Summer Anderson came on shift one day, she noticed two cells were not properly locked. She wrote “security risk” in her log but took no further action. At around 6:30 p.m. that evening she released half the prisoners on the tier for their scheduled dayroom time. Some prisoners asked Anderson to let the other half out, too. Shortly afterward the other cells were opened and Anderson then left her post for up to 20 minutes.

The detainees released from the second set of cells did not enter the dayroom; rather, they congregated in a darkened corridor between the two rows of cells on the tier. Needing to use the restroom, Junior entered the corridor to return to his cell. He was attacked from behind by several prisoners armed with shanks, suffered multiple stab wounds and ran to Anderson’s guard station for help, but she wasn’t there. He was hospitalized for two days.

The Seventh Circuit held the district court had prematurely dismissed Junior’s suit. It was fear of violence that had motivated the rule forbidding more than 20 prisoners to mingle in the dayroom area, and the risk of violence was further amplified by the sole guard leaving her post. The dark corridor made the situation more dangerous by allowing the prisoners who attacked Junior to hide. Those facts could allow a jury to find Anderson was deliberately indifferent to prisoner safety, resulting in Junior’s injuries.

The Court of Appeals also noted this case raised claims that “cry out for evidence that a lawyer could obtain but the [pro se] plaintiff could not.” As there was no basis to assume that Junior’s claims lacked merit, the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Anderson was reversed and the court was ordered to try to recruit counsel for Junior on remand. The case currently remains pending. See: Junior v. Anderson, 724 F.3d 812 (7th Cir. 2013).


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Related legal case

Junior v. Anderson