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$340,000 Settlement for Federal Prisoner Severely Beaten by Cellmate While Handcuffed

On October 2, 1997, the United States agreed to pay a federal prisoner a total of $340,000 to settle a lawsuit filed just months earlier alleging that negligence and deliberate indifference on the part of prison staff resulted in an attack by the prisoner’s cellmate while the victim was still handcuffed. The documents relating to this case were just recently released by the government pursuant to a longstanding Freedom of Information Act request filed by PLN.

The amended complaint states that Brendan Reilly was a prisoner at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Miami (MCC-Miami) when, in 1993, he was assaulted by his cellmate. That cellmate, David Vaughn Johnson (a.k.a. Robert Smith), had been housed in solitary confinement for years, according to the complaint, because he was considered "unmanageable and dangerous with a history of violent conduct."

On June 30, 1993, Reilly was placed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) where Johnson also resided. According to the suit, Reilly was placed in the same cell as Johnson despite the fact that there were other unoccupied cells in SHU. When Reilly was placed in the cell with Johnson, both prisoners were handcuffed. After the cell door was shut, Johnson's cuffs were removed first. Johnson then attacked Reilly while Reilly was still handcuffed behind his back, and "severely beat him over the head and body," the complaint reads.

Prison staff were aware that Johnson was dangerous and had assaulted several fellow prisoners in the past, and staff were grossly negligent in placing Reilly in a cell with Johnson due to Johnson's mental health issues as well as his "psychotic episodes," said the complaint.

As a result of the attack, Reilly was severely injured. Although the complaint does not fully detail those injuries, it does say that Reilly suffered "excruciating physical pain and great mental, emotional anxiety and distress," and "loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life." Reilly was apparently beaten so badly that he required future surgeries, psychological treatment, and rehabilitation.

Reilly filed a claim with the Federal Bureau of Prisons under the Federal Tort Claims Act in the amount of $400,000, but that claim was denied in 1994. The lawsuit, filed in 1997, sought unspecified damages against several MCC-Miami staff, including Warden Michael Fitzpatrick. Other defendants in the claim were Captain Mike Jannas, and Lieutenants Tapia and Hogans (both of whom were SHU unit managers).

The settlement documents received by PLN were unclear if the $340,000 settlement included attorney's fees and costs. Reilly was represented in the case by attorney Rhonda Anderson of Miami. See: Reilly v. Fitzpatrick, et al., Case No. 95-1402-CIV-GRAHAM and 97- 0162-CIV-GRAHAM (U.S.D.C. S.D. FL).

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Related legal case

Reilly v. Fitzpatrick, et al.