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$50,000 Jury Award in South Carolina Prisoner’s Failure to Protect Suit

A South Carolina federal jury awarded $50,000 to a prisoner in a civil rights action alleging a guard failed to intervene when he was attacked by other prisoners.

Lavadre D. Butler, 35, claimed that while incarcerated at the Lee Correctional Institution on June 13, 2012, he was brutally assaulted by other prisoners. He said guard Larry L. Durant unlocked his cell door to allow the prisoners to enter the cell and attack him.

Butler allegedly was able to flee the cell with his attackers in pursuit. He informed Durant that he was badly beaten and begged for help, but the guard refused. The other prisoners again attacked Butler in front of Durant’s desk.

The assault resulted in a severe stab wound and laceration to Butler’s right arm, requiring two surgeries and physical therapy. The injury left him with diminished use of his dominant hand.

When the case went to trial in November 2015, Butler presented evidence that Durant had been reprimanded and suspended on three prior occasions for failing to secure doors at the prison, including the failure to secure 54 doors during one incident. Another prisoner testified and corroborated Butler’s version of events concerning the assault.

Durant denied all of Butler’s claims, arguing he did not leave Butler’s cell unlocked. He also claimed he called for assistance when the attack began. The jury, however, found Durant had violated Butler’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by failing to protect him from a known threat. It awarded Butler $10,000 in compensatory damages and $40,000 in punitive damages.

In January 2016, the district court awarded Butler’s attorney, Christopher P. Kenney, $42,738.67 in fees plus $15,050 in staff costs and $8,859.55 in litigation expenses. Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the court ordered Butler to contribute 25% of the jury award ($12,500) toward the attorney fees, resulting in a net damages award of $37,500. See: Butler v. Durant, U.S.D.C. (D. SC), Case No. 4:14-cv-02276-RMG. 

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