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Federal Court Allows Menard Prisoner’s Lawsuit for Loss of Legal Papers, Retaliation to Proceed

by Derek Gilna

U.S. District Court Judge Staci M. Yandle, in the Southern District of Illinois, ruled on May 22, 2018 that a civil rights suit filed by Mickey Mason, incarcerated at the Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois, could go forward. Mason had filed his complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that a group of guards at the prison known as “Orange Crush” purposely took his legal papers during a cell shakedown, depriving him of the opportunity to prepare a post-conviction motion.

PLN previously reported on “Orange Crush,” a prison tactical team equipped with orange jumpsuits, body armor, riot helmets, clubs and pepper spray. Abusive searches and beatings conducted by the team have resulted in a number of lawsuits, including a 2015 case filed by the Uptown People’s Law Center and the law firm of Loevy & Loevy. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.58].

In Mason’s suit, the district court wrote, “According to the allegations of the First Amended Complaint, C/O Meyers and three unknown officers (John Doe 1, John Doe 2, John Doe 3, and John Doe 4) entered Plaintiff’s cell and removed his personal property without his consent on August 3, 2017. They took trial transcripts, legal documents, exhibits, and privileged correspondence, among other things.”

After the search of Mason’s cell and seizure of his documents, he reported the incident to prison employee Sandie Walker, who did not file an incident report or inform her supervisor. Mason argued that the search was in retaliation for his repeated requests “for a transfer, trust fund statement, money vouchers, and grievances.”

Mason further alleged that when he repeatedly filed complaints with prison officials, guards threatened to transfer him to a cell block “where the homosexuals are.” He and his family members complained to the warden, who referred the matter to a lieutenant to investigate. Mason said the lieutenant did not seem interested in the cell search or confiscation of his legal materials, and refused to give him a copy of the investigative report. Mason was transferred to another housing unit, where he was accused by a guard of being affiliated with a gang – an accusation he denied.

Judge Yandle combined the claims in Mason’s complaint into two main issues: 1) denial of access to the courts due to the cell search and confiscation of legal documents, and 2) retaliation for filing grievances. All other claims were dismissed.

The district court noted that with respect to the first issue, Mason “alleges that he was unable to present a proper post-conviction petition because his legal documents were confiscated by C/O Meyers, John Doe 1, John Doe 2, John Doe 3, and John Doe 4,” which constituted a valid claim that he had suffered specific prejudice to his ability to bring a “legitimate challenge to a conviction, sentence, or prison conditions.”

In regard to the second issue, Mason met the standard for alleging retaliation by prison officials, as he had set forth ‘“a chronology of events from which retaliation may plausibly be inferred’” related to actions taken by Sandie Walker. However, he had not adequately raised retaliation claims against other defendants because he challenged “the manner in which his grievances were handled (or ignored),” or those claims “arose after [he] filed the original case and/or are also unrelated to the surviving claims and parties herein.”

In addition to allowing the lawsuit to proceed, Judge Yandle also denied without prejudice Mason’s motion for appointment of counsel, and transferred the proceedings to a U.S. Magistrate Judge for further pre-trial proceedings and discovery. See: Mason v. Orange Crush Officers, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:17-cv-01026-SMY-RJD. 

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Related legal case

Mason v. Orange Crush Officers