Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Tennessee Prisoner Awarded $60,000 for Guards’ Use of Excessive Force

A Tennessee federal jury awarded $60,000 to a prisoner after finding three guards at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (RMSI) in Nashville had used excessive force.

The verdict found that prison guards Joshua McCall, Gaelen Doss and Sean Stewart used excessive force on former prisoner Todd Lee White while he was held in a segregation unit at RMSI. The incident occurred on May 31, 2010 – Memorial Day.

Because White and other prisoners in the unit were in segregation, they were confined to their cells 23 hours a day and received showers only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. McCall said there would be no showers that day because the unit was on “holiday schedule.”

Prisoners began banging on their cell doors, but McCall reiterated there would be no showers. When a nurse came to the cell of prisoner Ryan Honeycutt, he threw liquid on a guard. A short time later, guards arrived at Honeycutt’s cell, handcuffed him, beat him, broke his nose and left him without medical care.

About an hour later, guards returned to the unit to pass out dinner. When they approached White’s cell, he told the guards he knew what had happened to Honeycutt and said the incident should be reported to the shift commander. He then threw a milk carton full of cold coffee and water on the guards.

Four guards, including McCall, came to White’s cell about 30 minutes later and ordered him to submit to handcuffing. McCall said he must not have seen what they did to Honeycutt. White responded that he had, and demanded that the shift commander show up with a video camera before he would submit to handcuffing, as he was in fear for his safety.

The guards left and returned with other RMSI guards in riot gear. Lt. Bryan Baldwin assured White he would not be beaten, and directed him to face the wall with his hands behind his back and get on his knees. Once White did so, guards entered the cell with an electric shield and shocked him; they then commenced to kick, hit and beat him. White was placed in handcuffs and shackles, and a guard hit him in the eye, knocking him “unconscious for some period of time.” He awoke to more blows, and knees on his back. Once pulled to a standing position, a blow to his head caused a split in his forehead from the top of his hairline to between the eyebrows.

Finally, Lt. Baldwin said, “that was enough, bring him out of the cell.” White was carried down a staircase and slammed on the floor at the bottom. He was dragged to a recreation area, but his injuries resulted in such severe bleeding that a nurse was called. White was taken to a hospital, where “approximately ten to fifteen staples” and other sutures were needed to close his wounds.

At trial, the guards pointed fingers at each other. They acknowledged the force used was unnecessary, but no one took responsibility. While McCall denied using excessive force himself, he blamed Doss and Stewart. Doss admitted to an internal investigator that he had used excessive force, but denied it at trial.

The jurors made a culpability statement with their verdict: They awarded White $30,000 in compensatory damages against McCall and $15,000 each against Doss and Stewart. The district court entered the judgment on January 21, 2015; costs of $4,482.65 were taxed against the defendants, and on August 31, 2015 the court awarded $82,257.90 in attorney fees. White was represented by attorneys David L. Cooper, Blair P. Durham and Benjamin E. Winters.

“We think justice was served after an excessive amount of force was used against Mr. White,” Cooper stated. “He was very happy and very satisfied and thankful the jury listened to him and gave him justice when he was an incarcerated man and no one else would.”

The defendants appealed to the Sixth Circuit in late September 2015, and their appeal remains pending. White has since been released from prison. See: White v. Ray, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Tenn.), Case No. 3:10-cv-00863.

Additional source: The Tennessean

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

White v. Ray