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Illinois Prisoner Granted Transfer in Injunctive Relief in Rare Ruling

by David Reutter

The U.S. Southern District Court of Illinois granted a preliminary injunction for prisoner Calvin Mitchell as failed against Correctional Officer Stephen Baker and Warden Kim Butler. The order required that Mitchell be transferred away from the Menard Correctional Center for protection against Baker's threats and assaults against Mitchell, in violation of Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional protections.

Mitchell filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 complaint against Baker alleging that Baker's continued threats and abuse placed him in danger. Two evidentiary hearings were conducted by the district court, and Baker failed to appear at either hearing and failed to request a continuance.

Witnesses appeared for Mitchell to request and testified to seeing assaults and threats on Mitchell by Baker or Menard staff associated with his lawsuit. Menard's IA officer verified that Mitchell's mom had called his office to complaint of Baker's threats. Mitchell's prison counselors affirmed that they had authorized Mitchell's transfer to another prison. They contended that the transfer was not because of the threats, but their records did not reflect the reason for the transfer.

The district court acknowledged that granting an injunction against the prison is extremely rare. It noted that this case is not to be treated as persuasive authority or precedent unless all factors present here are presented in the future case. The greatest contributing factor here was Baker's complete absence from all proceedings so that no true defense was presented.

The court ruled that it is of the highest public interest that prison officials maintain respect for constitutional bounds, and transfer was the least intrusive remedy here to correct the continuing harm. The injunction would also serve was a warning to state officials against abandoning their defense. The injunction could become permanent or expire depending on the outcome of the case.

See: Mitchell v. Baker, No. 13-cv-0860 – MJR – SCW, (S.D. Ill, Jan 21, 2015). 

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Related legal case

Mitchell v. Baker