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$35,500 affirmed by Sixth Circuit in Michigan guard retaliation, free speech case

by Kevin Bliss

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the jury finding against Lewis Condon, Joseph Downard, and Gary McMurtrie, guards at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, Michigan, was proper and that the three violated Randle Griffin’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by retaliating against him for participating in an investigation.

The Court awarded Griffin $12,500 in damages, affirming the 2017 jury verdict, and $23,000 in legal fees and expenses.

Griffin was interviewed by the Ombudsman’s Office as part of an investigation of guards and their treatment of prisoners. Because of the statements he made, Condon, Downard and McMurtrie conspired to retaliate against Griffin with misconduct tickets and firing him from his job as recreation room porter, as well as confining him to his cell and loss of privileges for 10 days.

Griffin’s suit stated the guards were hindering his exercise of free speech. The district court found in favor of Griffin in a trial by jury and awarded him $12,500. The guards appealed.

Defendants stated that the misconduct ticket written by Downard did not qualify as an adverse action and that there was no clearly established law to support such. The court held that they looked to the punishment the prisoner could have faced in the fact that Griffin lost his job, was confined to his cell, and lost privileges. Clearly the misconduct ticket penalties were adverse actions, including Downard’s.

The guards argued that Griffin executed exactly what Michigan rules called for in grievance procedures. That, had he refiled on separate issues as the defendants suggested, then he truly would have been violating the grievance procedures in that new grievances cannot be refiled regarding rejections.

Finally, the guards argued that the ombudsman’s report was hearsay and prejudicial. The court held that the report was prepared by a competent investigator who was called to the witness stand and available for cross-examination.

Coupled with the fact that the report simply repeated allegations made by Griffin, it was not hearsay and no more prejudicial than what was already on the record.

The Court found nothing to overturn the jury’s verdict or award and affirmed the earlier decision. The state must pay $23,000 in legal fees and expenses. 

See: Griffin v. Condon, __F.3d___ (6th Cir. 2018) Additional source:

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Related legal case

Randle Griffin v. Louis Condon