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Jury Awards $12,000 to Connecticut Prisoner for Unsanitary Mattress

Jury Awards $12,000 to Connecticut Prisoner for Unsanitary Mattress

by David M. Reutter

A Connecticut federal jury awarded $12,000 in damages to a prisoner who was forced to sleep on an unhygienic mattress that was missing much of its stuffing.

The case involved a civil rights action alleging cruel and unusual punishment brought by Connecticut prisoner Harold R. Bell, who was housed at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution.

Bell complained to Captain Norberto Luna on June 26, 2008 that his “mattress was not long enough, had a big slit down its center, lacked sufficient insulation, smelled of mildew, and was unhygienic.” For the next several months the buck was passed among various prison officials as his written requests for a new mattress yielded no results.

Tired of the delay, Bell filed a grievance on September 19, 2008. In it, he described his mattress and claimed “its condition deprived him of getting sleep each night.” An investigation confirmed the mattress’ shoddy and unsanitary condition. As a result, Warden Peter Murphy instructed Bell to present the grievance response to his housing unit staff if the mattress had not been replaced.

Instead, Captain Luna told Bell to file another request for a replacement mattress. Once again, there was a lengthy delay while the request was passed among administrative and unit staff. It was not until January 14, 2009, during a shake down which mandated all prisoners set their mattresses outside their cells, that Bell’s mattress was finally replaced.

Bell filed a pro se civil rights complaint and obtained counsel as the case headed to trial. His attorney, Antonio Ponvert III, said Bell’s mattress was disgusting.

“No reasonable person would allow this mattress into their home,” said Ponvert. “No one would let their dog sleep on it. No one would sleep on it themselves an hour, let alone one night, let alone 200 nights, which is what he was forced to do.”

Medical staff verified that Bell suffered joint pain and headaches from sleeping on the mattress. The jury’s January 31, 2014 verdict found that Captain Luna had violated Bell’s Eighth Amendment rights and awarded $7,000 for past pain and suffering, and $5,000 in punitive damages. In March 2014, the district court awarded $18,000 in attorney’s fees plus $1,146.83 in costs, and specified that only $120 of Bell’s jury award would be applied to the attorney’s fees. See: Bell v. Luna, U.S.D.C. (D. Conn.), Case No. 3:10-cv-00008-MPS.


Additional source: Associated Press


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Related legal case

Bell v. Luna