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Indiana DOC Settles Prisoner’s Retaliation Suit for $80,000

by Matthew Clarke

In August 2017, the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) agreed to settle a prisoner’s conditions of confinement lawsuit after he alleged DOC officials had retaliated against him for filing the complaint.

Robert L. Holleman, an Indiana state prisoner, filed a pro se federal civil rights suit complaining that he and other prisoners lost their dayroom privileges for three days after contraband was found in a common area at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. That violated DOC policies forbidding punishment without the filing of a disciplinary report, punishment without due process and collective punishment.

Holleman subsequently sent a letter to DOC officials alleging improper practices in the conversion of the prison’s chapel into a 100-bed dorm. A week later, DOC officials reportedly told prison staff they wanted Holleman removed from his job as a law library clerk in retaliation for sending the letter and filing the lawsuit.

The next week, DOC internal affairs officer Tom Francum audited Holleman’s work computer. Unable to find anything the law library supervisor would call “personal correspondence” on the computer system, Francum had Holleman banned from the law library; six days later, he had him placed under “hold pending investigation” status in administrative segregation for 66 days.

Francum wrote a disciplinary report against Holleman, alleging three letters on his work computer were personal. The letters were basically complaints to OSHA, Aramark and the state Department of Health about various conditions of confinement.

Two weeks later, Holleman was informed the disciplinary report had been dismissed. He was released from segregation the next day but not allowed to return to his law library clerk job or his Honor Dorm housing. It was customary to return a prisoner released from an investigative hold without disciplinary charges to the same housing and job assignment.

Holleman filed a supplemental complaint detailing the retaliation, and U.S. District Court Judge Tanya W. Pratt held a hearing over “inaccuracies in sworn testimony” of prison officials. After the hearing she expressed “continuing concerns about the accuracy of testimony presented in this case,” regarding whether prison staff had retaliated against Holleman. Soon thereafter the DOC entered into an $80,000 settlement, and the case was dismissed by stipulation in January 2018. See: Holleman v. Zatecky, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 1:14-cv-00671-TWP-DML. 

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Related legal case

Holleman v. Zatecky