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Threats by Arkansas Prison Administration Warrants Transfer

by David Reutter

The Eighth Circuit of Appeals reversed and remanded a federal district court's denial of prisoner James Walker's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 petition seeking his transfer to a federal prison or some other state's prison because he had a reasonable fear that his life was in great danger if he continued to be housed in any Arkansas prison.

Walker was convicted and sentenced for the 1963 murder of an Arkansas policeman. Walker served almost 11 years as a model prisoner at the Tucker prison. He had enjoyed dozens of furloughs while there.

In 1974, apparently at the request of superintendent A.L. Lockhart of the Cummins prison, Walker was transferred to the Cummins prison, so that A.L. Lockhart could teach the "cop killing son of a bitch" a lesson.

In 1975, Walker was granted another furlough, but he did not return from that furlough. When he was arrested in California almost five years later, Walker filed a motion to block extradition asserting that he would be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment (loss of life) if he were forced to return to the Arkansas prison system.

His motion was denied, and he was returned to Arkansas where he checked into protective custody and filed other motions. He filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 petition against Lockhart, detailing evidence of viable threats on his life. The district court denied the petition without making a finding of fact.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit summarized the facts and found there was evidence from other prisoners and staff supporting Walker's allegations. Without finding that Lockhart had actually threatened Walker, the court concluded that Walker had shown a reasonable fear that his life was in danger if he returned to an Arkansas state prison.

Based on this reasonable fear and Walker's right to not spend his entire sentence in protective custody being denied privileges granted to other prisoners, the Eighth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for an order to transfer Walker to a federal or another state's prison.

See: Walker v. Lockhart, 713 F. 2d 1378 (8th Cir. 1983).

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Related legal case

Walker v. Lockhart