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Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment for Prison Officials Who Allegedly Allowed Attack on Nevada Prisoner

Before the court was the appeal of Nevada prisoner Robert Wilk. He was attacked by prisoner Ysaquirle Nunley on February 11, 2014, at High Desert State Prison (HDSP). Nunley, on October 20, 2013, threatened to attack and kill Wilk, who immediately reported the threat.

HDSP’s units 7 and 8 were protective units that shared a common yard. Prisoners in the units were on different schedules to use the yard, but opportunities existed for prisoners of the two units to have contact. At the time of the threat, Wilk and Nunley were housed in Unit 7.

Wilk was placed in segregation after reporting the threat. On October 30 and again in November, he attended a classification meeting where Warden Dwight Neven, Associate Warden Jennifer Nash, and caseworker Cary Leavitt were either present or represented. Wilk was informed Nunley would be placed on his “enemy list” and told he was still in disciplinary segregation. Based on that, Wilk agreed to move to Unit 8. Nunley, however, had been returned to Unit 7 and was never placed on Wilk’s enemy list.

On the day of the attack, February 11, 2014, Nunley was released from his cell for a medical appointment. The defendants admitted he broke away from his unit. He then attacked Wilk with stones, gravel, and fists that resulted in Wilk sustaining a broken nose and damage to his eyes.

Leavitt concede being at the classification meetings with Wilk, but Nash and Neven denied they were there. Leavitt admitted he made “a clerical mistake regarding assigning Nunley to the enemy list,” but claimed it was not his job to do so. The district court found Nash and Neven had no subjective knowledge of the risk Nunley posed to Wilk. It further found Will failed to show “Leavitt was aware of an excessive or intolerable risk to Will’s health or safety.”

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that a jury could find Leavitt was subjectively aware of the substantial risk of harm to Wilk. It noted nothing in the circumstances had changed when Wilk’s was placed in Unit 8, and it was conceded that Units 7 and 8 allowed limited contact.

The court said Neven and Nash had knowledge of the risk because they were either present or represented at the classification meetings at issue. It further found a jury could conclude Neven was personally aware of the risk Nunley posed because of his role in supervising the enemy list revision process. It also found a jury could determine Nash was partially responsible for the failure to update Wilk’s enemy list because she acted immediately after the attack to update the list. Each of the defendants also mislead Wilk by telling him Nunley had not been moved to Unit 7.

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Related legal case

Wilk v. Neven