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With Help from ACLU, Parolee Wins $10,000 Settlement Plus $100,000 in Attorney Fees

by Derek Gilna

After serving a 16-year sentence for forcible sodomy and forcible oral copulation, California state prisoner Sherman D. Manning was released on parole in February 2016 under the custody of the state’s Division of Adult Parole Operations. Following months of harassment and retaliation by that agency, Manning, with the assistance of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, filed suit in federal court.

According to the ACLU, Manning, an ordained Baptist minister, served his sentence as an exemplary prisoner, devoting himself to his religious interests. After his release he earned a living in the Los Angeles area for a period of time by preaching to various congregations.

He was subject to over 100 parole conditions, including rules that prohibited him from being within 250 feet of “places where children congregate” – even though his offenses did not involve children – and barred him from using online social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter – despite the fact that his offenses did not involve the Internet. While on parole, he twice received violations for logging into Facebook and was sentenced to 120 and 100 days in jail.

After being assigned a new parole officer, that officer contended he could not continue preaching at churches, since children were present. Although parole supervisors indicated he could still attend church, they refused to provide such permission in writing. Manning was later explicitly told he was barred from attending church and would be arrested if he continued to do so. He then contacted the ACLU, which submitted a letter to parole officials on his behalf raising First Amendment concerns.

Manning claimed that following that letter he was subjected to retaliation, including “verbal abuse, threats, and retaliatory searches and administrative burdens,” and that parole officials specifically cited his contact with the ACLU as being the reason for their harassment. He was arrested after several compliance checks, and pled guilty to having an open container in his vehicle, violating curfew and accessing pornography. The harassment continued after he served about 75 days for the parole violations.

As stated in his complaint filed on October 2017, “Parole officials do not have untrammeled authority to burden the First Amendment rights of people on parole to express themselves and exercise their religion just because they remain under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

“Parole officials may not impose blanket restrictions on use of social media sites and other Internet sites,” the complaint continued, “which the Supreme Court has recently described as ‘perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard,’ and whose use the Court has held is protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.”

Nonetheless, even though Manning depended on social media for building his ministry and obtaining leads for guest preaching, and had been allowed to carry out such activities for a substantial period of time after his release from prison, parole authorities reversed course and barred him from social media and even from churches, essentially terminating his ability to preach and practice his faith.

The ACLU noted that “parole officials [may not] completely bar the doors to houses of worship to people on parole. Yet Defendants are doing precisely that. They or their agents ... repeatedly told Mr. Manning that one of his conditions of parole bars him from attending church as a member of the congregation and from preaching in church, and they have threatened to have him arrested if he does, even though these practices are protected under the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment.”

The defendants settled the case in May 2018, agreeing to pay $10,000 to Manning and allowing him to resume his religious activities, including preaching in churches. He also was permitted to use online social media provided that he followed his other parole conditions. Further, the ACLU received $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. See: Manning v. Green, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:17-cv-07832-DDP-GJS.

Previously, Manning had sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for interfering with his mail and retaliating against him for publishing books critical of the state prison system. The retaliation reportedly included false disciplinary charges, threats to move him into a cell with a violent cellmate and having his parole delayed. Represented by attorney Jeff Kravitz, Manning settled that case in October 2015 for $5,000. See: Manning v. Johnson, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:12-cv-02440-MCE-AC. 


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Related legal cases

Manning v. Green

Manning v. Johnson