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Retaliatory “Rough Ride” by Prison Guards States Eighth Amendment Claim

by David Reutter

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Virginia state prisoner had stated a claim for violation of his constitutional rights when guards gave him a “rough ride” in a prison van in retaliation for filing grievances and lawsuits.

Paul C. Thompson was placed in handcuffs, leg irons, shackles and a black box restraint device, then loaded into a prison van on April 8, 2010 for transport to the Mecklenburg Circuit Court for a proceeding. Prison guards Diming and Cooper refused Thompson’s request to secure his seat belt.

The van then made an uneventful ride down a “windy, sharply-curved road for about an hour and a half.” The guards stopped at a convenience store and turned back in the direction of Deep Meadow Correctional Center after they received a call saying the court proceeding had been canceled.

According to Thompson, Cooper drove “erratically, exceeding the speed limit and crossing the white and yellow traffic lines.” Not seat-belted, Thompson was thrown from one side to the other, and sudden stops and accelerations caused him to be thrown forward and backward. In response to Thompson’s pleas to stop driving dangerously, Cooper and Diming allegedly laughed and taunted him, saying, “So you like to write grievances and take people to court, we know how to deal with inmates ... who create problems.”

Photos taken after the van trip showed Thompson with a three-quarter inch gash on his forehead. Cooper and Diming said he was throwing himself about the van and threatening them with lawsuits claiming they had beat him up. Based upon the guards’ statement, Thompson received a disciplinary charge for “lying and giving false information to an employee.”

Thompson filed a civil rights action alleging First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, as well as state law claims. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all the claims in 2015, and Thompson appealed.

In a December 18, 2017 decision, the Fourth Circuit held the “Eighth Amendment claim goes directly to the transport incident and is the factual epicenter of the case.” That claim involved the use of force “without any legitimate purpose, albeit using the transport van’s momentum rather than a punch.”

The appellate court wrote that “giving a prisoner a so-called ‘rough ride’ in a van does not constitute an acceptable means of securing compliance,” even if the prisoner was disobeying orders, which was not an issue in this case. Thus, the Eighth Amendment claim against Cooper survived. The deliberate indifference claim against Diming also survived because Diming took no action to stop the risk of harm to Thompson. The Fourth Circuit reversed on those claims and the state law claims, but affirmed as to the dismissal of all other claims.

The district court appointed counsel for Thompson on remand, and the case remains pending. See: Thompson v. Virginia, 878 F.3d 89 (4th Cir. 2017). 


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Related legal case

Thompson v. Virginia