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$7,000 Default Judgment Awarded in Failure to Protect Suit Against Former Arkansas Jail Guard

by Harold Hempstead

On November 23, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas awarded $7,000 in compensatory damages to a state prisoner who, while held in a Pine Bluff jail, was injured in a beating by fellow prisoners when a former guard failed to intervene.

The incident occurred at Jefferson County’s W.C. “Dub” Brassell Detention Center (DBDC) on November 27, 2018, when eight prisoners attacked Josinnie Johnson in the gym. Johnson ran for the exit and hit a panic button so he could escape. But guard Lecora Hawkins said “no.”

Johnson filed suit in the Court pro se, alleging that after the attack he “had several raised areas on his forehead and jaw; was bleeding from his nose and lips; had several lacerations on his face and back of his neck; had bruising and swelling around one eye, and had blurred vision.”

He further alleged that Hawkins knew that the prisoners who attacked Johnson had a history of violence, yet she did nothing to protect him. Johnson also provided documentation supporting that he had $4,038.75 in medical bills relating to his emergency room visit.

“On November 17, 2020, the United States Marshal…served Ms. Hawkins with a summons and a copy of the complaint,” the Court noted. But Hawkins did not file an answer or response pleading “within 21 days after being served with the summons and complaint” as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 (a)(1)(A)(i). So the Court directed her to show cause within “14 days why a default judgment should not be entered against her pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55.” Hawkins did not respond, and on March 10, 2021, the Clerk entered a default judgment.

The Court reviewed damages awarded to plaintiffs in similar cases, including: Boesing v. Spiess, 540 F.3d 886 (8th Cir. 2008); Riley v. Olk-Long, 282 F.3d 592 (8th Cir. 2002); Williams v. Rambo, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41512 (W.D. Ark.); and Palton v. Jackson, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83176 (E.D. Ark.). Based on that, the Court awarded Johnson $7,000 in compensatory damages. However, there was no award recommended for punitive damages since Johnson did not provide any notice that he was seeking them, as required in the Eighth Circuit since Bowles v. Osmose Utilities Services, Inc., 443 F.3d 671, (8th Cir. 2006).

During the course of his case, Johnson added the representation of counsel Nicki Nicolo of the Law Offices of Nicki Nicolo, PLLC, in North Little Rock. See: Johnson v. Hawkins, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225515 (E.D. Ark.). 

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Related legal case

Johnson v. Hawkins