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Illinois Prison Guilty of Censoring Free Speech Over Facebook Posts

An Illinois federal district court held on September 9, 2019, that Larry Harris was retaliated against when he was punished and transferred to a less-desirable prison because of what his daughter, Amanda Carrasco, posted on her Facebook account.

Harris filed a § 1983 complaint against officials of Danville Correctional Center on March 27, 2017. He alleged that the warden, Victor Calloway, had Harris placed in segregation in retaliation for statements his daughter had posted stating that a guard at the institution was stealing canteen from prisoners’ orders, purposely overcharging, and stealing taxpayer dollars.

Harris said that Lt. Charles Campbell wrote him a disciplinary report for threats and intimidation. He was transferred to Big Muddy River Correctional Center on a bad-adjustment transfer. He named Neil Flannery, Felicia Adkins, and John Peterson as co-defendants “acting in conspiracy” with Campbell and Calloway to silence his and his daughter’s freedom of speech.

Flannery and Adkins sat on the disciplinary board that refused to hear Harris’ evidence and based their decision solely on Campbell’s statement. Peterson was the grievance officer who would not fully investigate Harris’ grievance.

Harris requested $71,000 for his illegal segregation, permanent housing at Shawnee Correctional Center, employment as an industry welder, and whatever punitive damages the jury felt justified. He then filed for summary judgment as did the defendants, who sought to strike Harris’ summary judgment.

Judge Michael Mihm of the U.S. District Court held that Harris did exert some control over his daughter’s Facebook account as could be seen when Carrasco changed the entry to black out the guard’s name after Harris spoke with her. Nonetheless, Harris was not engaged in the protection of his free speech rights and, since he was not an attorney, he could not litigate for the protection of his daughter’s.

This, though, did not affect the foundation of the retaliation claim. The order stated, “Defendants remain potentially liable for retaliation, however, even if their belief as to the Plaintiff’s involvement in the protected activity was mistaken.” The citations reflected that punishment was enacted due to the Facebook postings, clearly making this a retaliatory move not affected by qualified immunity.

Related legal case

Harris v. Calloway