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Pennsylvania County Pays $1.1 Million to Former Prisoner Beaten by Guards

by Chad Marks

Patrick J. Haight, 53, was being held at the Erie County Prison in Pennsylvania on a $500 bond for driving under the influence when he was viciously beaten by guards.

On May 10, 2017, Haight injured his toe and was taken to the infirmary for treatment. The guards who escorted him back to his housing unit began beating and pepper spraying him. Before long, Haight was taken to an isolated shower area and then a gym, where the guards commenced to beat him some more, punching and kicking him while he was handcuffed. Once on the ground, an off-duty guard kicked him in the head. The incident was caught on video.

Haight did not receive medical care following the savage beating; instead, he was put in solitary confinement. He said he was taken to a hospital and placed on life support for 15 days as a result of his injuries stemming from the assault, which included “strokes, kidney failure, collapsed or punctured lung, torn or restricted carotid arteries, acute closed head injuries, broken ribs, ruptured eye socket and numerous cuts and abrasions.”

Prison guard Corey A. Cornelius, 34, who had allegedly kicked or tried to kick Haight in the head, was charged with simple assault; however, the charge was dismissed in December 2017. A lieutenant and captain at the Erie County Prison were suspended without pay but not charged. Prison staff accused Haight of instigating the incident by being combative, aggressive, spitting and grabbing at a guard’s belt.

Attorneys Alec Wright and Timothy O’Brien filed suit on Haight’s behalf in federal court, claiming that his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act were violated when guards used excessive force against him. They alleged there was a culture at the Erie County Prison in which beating prisoners was a normal practice that resulted in no consequences for the guards involved. The complaint noted that security video showed Haight, who had bipolar and anxiety disorders, being dragged down a hallway while six to 10 guards circled him as he was cuffed and shackled. Some knelt on him, some strangled him, and others punched and kicked him, according to the suit.

Confronted with the video evidence, Erie County officials decided it would be better to settle the lawsuit, and agreed to pay $1.1 million to Haight in September 2018. Except for a $10,000 deductible, the settlement was covered by the county’s insurance policy. See: Haight v. Erie County, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:18-cv-00068-SPB.

“In the era of mass incarceration, now more than ever we need to focus on just and humane treatment for incarcerated persons,” O’Brien said in a statement. “We must especially ensure that pre-trial detainees in our institutional facilities do not have their constitutional rights violated by those employed to protect them, because these are people who are incarcerated while merely awaiting trial and they have not yet been convicted of any crime.” 


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