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$4,000 Federal Bench Verdict to Kentucky Prisoner Assaulted by Guard While Restrained

On March 26, 2021, the U.S. DistrictCourt for the Western District of Kentucky granted summary judgment to a state prisoner who sued a former guard for assaulting him while he was compliant and restrained.

Kentucky State Penitentiary prisoner Michael Cooper filed suit pro se under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging former guard Nathaniel Deboe used unconstitutionally excessive force when he assaulted Cooper while the prisoner was complaint and handcuffed.

In his answer, Deboe admitted punching Cooper without physical provocation, for which he was convicted of fourth-degree assault. He said that he returned Cooper to his cell from the recreation yard early for “threatening staff with frivolous lawsuits and causing a disturbance.”

Cooper said his restraints were very tight and that Deboe held his arms “high over his head, forcing him to bend over to walk,” causing shoulder pain and wrist lacerations. He said multiple times he yelled out, “I’m not resisting,” but upon arrival at his cell was “forcefully slammed into the brick wall, face first.”

Once the door was opened, Deboe “forced” Cooper into the cell and “slammed” him into the corner, the prisoner continued, causing Cooper to fall and hit his head on the toilet. Then Deboe pinned Cooper to the wall and punched him in the rib cage.

Another prisoner, Kareem Edwards, witnessed from his nearby cell what occurred in the hallway and also heard what occurred in the cell, including Cooper’s repeated insistence that he wasn’t resisting. He also heard Cooper ask, “Why did you punch me in my side?” Cooper filed an affidavit from Edwards and his own affidavit in support of his motion for summary judgment.

Deboe did not respond to that motion. The Court took notice of the affidavits and Deboe’s conviction, as well as his admission that he pinned Cooper to the cell wall and “simply blacked out in a moment of anger,” deciding “to hurt what had already hurt” him. Even giving deference to Deboe’s need to make a split-second judgment, the Court couldn’t understand how Cooper, restrained as he was, presented sufficient threat to justify the force Deboe used.

Thus the Court granted Cooper’s motion for summary judgment, awarding him $2,000 in compensatory damages for his suffering and $2,000 in punitive damages. It also denied Cooper’s motion for default judgment against Deboe for the guard’s no-show at the appeal. See: Cooper v. Vinson, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58114 and 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58119 (W.D. Ky.). 

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Related legal case

Cooper v. Vinson