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Eighth Circuit: No Qualified Immunity for Jail Prisoner Raped in Unlocked Cell; $60,000 Verdict at Trial

Eighth Circuit: No Qualified Immunity for Jail Prisoner Raped in Unlocked Cell; $60,000 Verdict at Trial

by Mark Wilson

On May 20, 2014, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to a Missouri jail administrator in a case involving the rape of a pretrial detainee.

Within five days of being booked into Missouri’s Macon County Jail in August 2010, nineteen-year-old, 135-pound detainee Cody Lee Walton was raped by another prisoner, Nathan Flennory, 35, a 195-pound registered sex offender. At the time, Walton was jailed on charges of vehicle theft and carrying a gun without a permit.

Flennory had a history of violence that included assault on a law enforcement officer, domestic assault and unlawful use of a weapon. Just four days before he attacked Walton, Flennory pleaded guilty to forcible rape.

Guard Ryszard Bilinski routinely violated the jail’s unwritten policy to lock the cell doors at night, and jail administrator David Moore verbally reprimanded Bilinski when he discovered that Bilinski had left the cells unlocked. Yet just three months before attacking Walton, Flennory entered another prisoner’s unlocked cell as he slept and bit his penis. Even after that incident the cells were not locked at night, allowing Flennory to rape Walton.

After learning of the rape, Sheriff Robert Dawson issued written reprimands to Moore and Bilinski, and placed Moore on probation for 90 days for not enforcing policy. Dawson called the rape “a very tragic event” and “one of the most serious events” at the jail during his tenure.

Walton filed suit alleging jail officials were deliberately indifferent to the known risk posed by leaving cell doors unlocked overnight while Flennory, a violent sex offender, was held at the jail. The district court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity and they filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to Moore in a lengthy ruling, finding that “despite prison policies requiring frequent cell checks with nighttime lockdowns, Moore and his jailers actually did next to nothing. At night, cells were rarely checked and never locked.” Therefore, the appellate court concluded, “Moore is not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage of the case.”

The Court of Appeals found that the district court had improperly denied qualified immunity to Sheriff Dawson, however, because “the undisputed evidence” established that unlike Moore, Dawson “did not know inmates like Walton were in jeopardy” of being sexually assaulted. See: Walton v. Dawson, 752 F.3d 1109 (8th Cir. 2014), rehearing and rehearing en banc denied.

Following remand the case went to a jury trial in October 2014, resulting in a $60,000 verdict against Moore. Walton’s attorneys subsequently filed a motion for an award of $929,823 in attorneys’ fees and costs, which remains pending.


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Related legal case

Walton v. Dawson