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Nevada: Muslim Prisoner Awarded $39,260 in Damages Plus Attorney’s Fees

A Nevada federal jury initially awarded $28,800 to a state prisoner after finding that officials at the Southern Desert Correctional Center had violated his religious and equal protection rights, and one guard used excessive force.

Prisoner Reginald C. Howard claimed he was denied the opportunity to attend Muslim religious services and denied access to his holy books and texts. He also alleged he received varied or discriminatory treatment due to his religion.

Following the jury’s verdict in November 2015, the defendants moved for a new trial. The district court rejected their arguments that Howard’s counsel made improper closing statements and that the verdicts were cumulative. 

The jury had found that guards Ron Jaeger, Vincent Raybourn and Rene Galvin, as well as Chaplain Julio Calderin and deputy director Brian Connett, were liable for violating Howard’s First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The jurors awarded $4,000 in compensatory damages against Jaeger, $1,000 each against Raybourn and Galvan, and $2,000 each against Connett and Calderin. Further, punitive damages of $5,000 were awarded against Jaeger, $1,000 against Raybourn, $4,000 against Galvan, and $4,400 each against Connett and Calderin.

The district court held that while Connett failed to act on Howard’s grievances related to his inability to worship as a Muslim, there was not “clear evidence with respect to the issue of discriminatory or different treatment of Howard due to his religion.”

The court also noted Connett and Calderin’s demeanors at trial. Connett was “disdainful” of having to respond to a prisoner’s complaint and “offended at having to appear at trial to defend his actions,” while Calderin exhibited “nonchalance about lying in an official report,” was indifferent to his actions and angered at having to respond to Howard’s claims.

Raybourn was in a position to help Howard receive his religious items, but did nothing to assist him. The court noted this was limited to a single instance. As such, it reduced the punitive damages against Raybourn from $1,000 to $10; it also reduced the punitive damages against Connett to $50.

Aside from reducing those two punitive damages awards, the district court upheld the jury’s remaining verdict in an August 23, 2018 order, plus granted default judgment against guards R. Klein and Cheryl Burson. The court then awarded $4,000 in damages against Klein and $9,600 against Burson. The total damages award, as amended and including the default judgments, was $39,260.

The district court further awarded Howard’s attorney $46,819 in fees. Both Howard and the defendants appealed to the Ninth Circuit in September 2018. Howard is represented by attorney Travis N. Barrick with the Las Vegas law firm of Gallian Welker & Beckstrom, LC. See: Howard v. Connett, U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 2:11-cv-01402-RFB-GWF. 

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Related legal case

Howard v. Connett