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$150,000 in Damages Ordered Paid to Injured Prisoner

By Christopher Zoukis

The Bureau of Prisons lost a tort claim brought by a prisoner who was attacked by another prisoner in 1991.

The plaintiff, Stephen E. Usselman, alleged that he was placed in the special housing unit at Federal Correctional Institution Sheridan, Oregon and was housed with a higher custody inmate who had a history of violent behavior and psychiatric problems. Despite multiple requests that he be moved for his safety, Usselman remained housed with the unstable prisoner for 10 days.

On the 11th day, the deranged prisoner, Craig Haberman, brutally attacked Usselman with a length of pipe. Usselman's account of what happened details a perfect storm of incompetence, indifference, and utter failure by Bureau of Prisons personnel.

According to Usselman, FCI Sheridan staff knew that Haberman was mentally ill and dangerous, and that he should not be housed with anyone, let alone a minimum custody inmate. Staff also knew that Haberman was in possession of a length of pipe; he had been charged with an incident report one week prior to the instant incident for beating the cell door with a pipe.

On the day in question, FCI Sheridan prison guard Fassbender violated Bureau of Prisons protocol by not handcuffing Haberman prior to returning the handcuffed Usselman to the cell from a shower. According to the complaint, "As [the handcuffed Usselman] entered the cell, inmate Haberman, who lay in wait, jumped from the top bunk and brandished a length of pipe" with which he repeatedly struck Usselman on the head and back.

Prison guard Fassbender watched as Usselman was assaulted, but he did not render assistance. Fortunately for Usselman, the door to the cell was still open, and he escaped.

But Haberman wasn't done. As Usselman tells it, he was "followed into the corridor by an unrestrained inmate Haberman, who was continuing to rain blows to [his] head and back, while screaming obscenities and following [him] down the corridor."

FCI Sheridan prison guards Miller, Andert and Fassbender did nothing to stop the out-of-control Haberman.

Ultimately, a "bevy of correctional officers" appeared and disarmed Haberman. He was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and charged with assault.

Usselman detailed a near total lack of care for his multiple head injuries over the months that followed the attack. Despite regular requests for medical attention due to his near-constant headaches and increasingly blurry vision, the most Usselman received was a prescription for Motrin from a physician's assistant.

More than a year after the assault, Bureau of Prisons staff finally ordered a skull series for Usselman, after he was diagnosed with hematomas between the skull and the brain. Usselman made multiple attempts to get the results from the skull scan, but no Bureau official could seem to find it.

Usselman sued the following prison officials: FCI Sheridan Warden Joseph H. Crabtree; Captain Sandel; Lieutenants Seagers, Sales and Pena; prison guards Fassbender, Andert and Miller; Dr. Gordon and nurse Claire; FCI Sheridan Camp Counselor Hayden; Federal Correctional Institution Safford Dr. Ferriol and Physician's Assistant Lacist; and Federal Prison Camp Boron Hospital Administrator Neil F. Erickson. He alleged violation of his civil rights and negligence.

After a bench trial on May 31, 1996, United States District Judge Helen J. Frye found for Usselman and awarded him $150,000.00 in compensatory damages.

Usselman was represented at trial by Portland, Oregon attorney Tom Steenson, of the firm Steenson, Schumann, Tewksbury, Later & Rose, P.C.

The documents from this case were obtained by Prison Legal News after prevailing over the Bureau of Prisons in a 12-year court battle over a Freedom of Information Act records request.

See: Usselman v. Crabtree, et al., United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Civil Case No. 93-1577-FR.

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Related legal case

Usselman v. Crabtree, et al