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$5,000 Award for Pro Se Florida DOC Prisoner in Unjustified Pepper Spraying

A Florida federal district court awarded $5,000 to a prisoner on September 16, 2020, for a guard’s use of excessive force.

While at Everglades Correctional Institution, Florida prisoner Mazzard B. McMillian and other prisoners were found in the wrong dormitory during a prison count. As they were being escorted to confinement, Colonel Patrick Riggins ordered all of the prisoners to get on the ground.

McMillian complied with the orders, did not resist, and held his hands behind his back. Despite his compliance, Riggins pepper sprayed McMillian. Riggins and another guard dragged McMillian from outside the confinement area onto the grass and then to a shower. McMillan’s complaints of trouble breathing and seeing were ignored and he was placed in a cell.

The Florida Department of Corrections conducted an investigation and Riggins was terminated. He was also criminally charged. He pleaded guilty to battery on an inmate and a charge of falsifying an official record was dismissed. He was sentenced to 100 hours of community service, a $100 fine, and an anger management class.

For his part, McMillian sued Riggins and several other officials.

The claims against Assistant Warden Herin were dismissed after a settlement was reached. McMillian moved for a default judgment against Riggins. The clerk entered a default judgment and the court granted McMillian’s motion for default judgment. That order limited judgment to liability only.

The court held a video conference on September 14, 2020 to determine a damage award. Both McMillian and Riggins appeared pro se. McMillian sought $250,000 for his injuries. He claimed loss of his 20/20 vision, skin irritation on his face, complications in his asthma, and “major stress.”

At the hearing, “McMillian testified, credibly, to the shock, agony, fear, and distress Riggins inflicted upon him when when Riggins, unprovoked, pepper sprayed McMillian at close range.” The court found McMillian was entitled to $5,000 for compensatory damages for the pain and suffering he experienced.

The court rejected awarding a higher amount because McMillian failed to carry his burden to establish that the pepper spray medically caused a diminishment in vision, sensitivity to light, aggravation of his existing asthma, or major stress disorder. The court entered final judgment in McMillan’s favor and the case was closed. See: McMillian v. Riggins, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170012. 


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Related legal case

McMillian v. Riggins