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$30,000 Settlement for Pennsylvania Pretrial Detainee Subjected to Excessive Force

by David M. Reutter

A $30,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit alleging that guards at the Clinton County Correctional Facility (CCCF) in McElhattan, Pennsylvania used excessive force on a pretrial detainee. The suit also claimed that medical staff failed to treat him for his injuries.

Joel R. Snider was at CCCF awaiting disposition of a murder charge; he subsequently pleaded guilty but mentally ill, and received a 30-to-60-year sentence. Prior to entering the jail, he had been diagnosed with serious mental illness, depression and chronic paranoid schizophrenia. Snider regularly heard voices and experienced delusions despite repeated increases to his medication.

His mental condition resulted in frequent behavioral problems. Snider’s complaint alleged that CCCF staff failed to take his “disability into consideration or provide him any accommodations during the disciplinary process.”

The lawsuit alleged two different incidents of excessive force. The first occurred on February 28, 2013. Snider complained to a lieutenant that several guards were stealing his religious material and one was harassing him. The lieutenant said he would take care of it, and “resolved” the issue by having a disciplinary report written against Snider.

That necessitated a move to “the hole.” While being taken to segregation, guards “tackled” Snider after he fell. He was then dragged down the hall and a set of stairs, and was denied medical care for his injuries immediately after the incident. It was only after he filed a grievance that he received any care.

The date of the second incident was unclear from the complaint, but it occurred after Snider was issued another disciplinary report. He had refused to be removed from his cell, though he was non-combative and sat meditating and chanting while sitting at the back of the cell. Guards twice sprayed him with pepper spray, then an extraction team used shock shields and force to place him in restraints. Snider was repeatedly kneeled and punched before being dragged to a segregation cell.

He was not given soap when placed in a shower, and once the water was turned on the pepper spray reactivated, causing increased pain. It was not until 19 hours later that Snider was allowed to take a shower with soap.

He initially filed suit pro se, but was later represented by attorneys from the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. The $30,000 settlement was reached on November 15, 2018. Snider has since appealed, citing his mental health condition and “repeated and intense abuse and obstruction by prison officials,” which he says impeded him from “any meaningful opportunity to pursue his claims.” His appeal remains pending. See: Snider v. Motter, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 4:13-cv-01226-MWB. 


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Related legal case

Snider v. Motter