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$10,000 Federal Jury Award in Texas Prisoner’s Suit Over Retaliatory Beatings

by Matt Clarke

On June 22, 2017, a federal jury awarded $10,000 to a prisoner against six Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) guards for beating him and issuing false disciplinary reports in retaliation for grievances and previous successful litigation.

Daniel Ostrander, a Texas state prisoner, was held in administrative segregation at the TDCJ’s Hughes Unit. According to court documents, soon after Ostrander arrived at the facility, officials began harassing him about his prior successful lawsuits by improperly deducting money from his trust account and denying him legal visits.

Ostrander filed grievances complaining of the harassment. Soon thereafter, TDCJ guard Michael Yarborough and Lt. Robert Preston handcuffed Ostrander, slammed his head into a concrete wall and struck him in the face. They said the beating was in retaliation for his grievances and litigation, and told him to stop before he was “seriously hurt.” They also denied him medical treatment for his injuries.

Ostrander filed another grievance and contacted the Office of the Inspector General to report the beating. In retaliation for those actions, guards Kenneth Taylor and John Kelly falsified a disciplinary report against Ostrander. The disciplinary hearing was conducted by Preston, who had written “guilty” on the hearing form before the hearing began.

Preston continued to threaten Ostrander with violence if he did not discontinue his litigation activities. He and Taylor again assaulted Ostrander while he was handcuffed, causing a deep facial laceration. He reported that incident and received another beating, this time administered by guard Harold Kosteck with Kelly’s assistance. Sgt. Michael Kiuck supervised the beating and later pepper sprayed Ostrander without provocation. Kiuck also wrote a bogus disciplinary report against Ostrander.

Ostrander filed a pro se federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the six guards had used excessive force against him in retaliation for activities protected by the First Amendment. A federal jury found that Yarborough, Kosteck and Kelly used excessive force; that Kosteck and Kelly beat Ostrander in retaliation; that Taylor, Preston and Kiuck issued false disciplinary cases in retaliation; and that all of their actions were unreasonable.

The jurors awarded compensatory damages of $1,500 against Preston, $1,000 each against Kosteck and Kiuck, $750 against Kelly, $500 against Yarborough and $250 against Taylor. They also awarded an identical amount against each defendant in punitive damages. The total award was $10,000.

Ostrander litigated the case himself, with attorney Kyle Watkins as standby counsel during the trial. In October 2017, the district court awarded Watkins $3,500 in fees. The court then entered judgment against the defendants on March 5, 2018, which included both pre- and post-judgment interest as well as $1,030.10 in costs.

Ostrander subsequently informed the court that a settlement agreement he had signed, which specified the state did not admit liability and would not acknowledge any punitive damages awarded by the jury, had been coerced “under duress of threats” by TDCJ staff at the Allred Unit, where he was housed. The case remains pending on post-trial motions. See: Ostrander v. Kosteck, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Tex.), Case No. 6:13-cv-00360-RP. 


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Related legal case

Ostrander v. Kosteck