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Fifth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity to Texas Sheriff Who Rehired Abusive Jailer Who in Turn Again Abused a Detainee

by Matt Clarke

On January 13, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that by rehiring a jailer who previously abused detainees at the jail, a Texas sheriff was not entitled to qualified immunity in a new suit brought by another prisoner making abuse allegations against the guard.

The complaint was filed in federal court for the Eastern District of Texas by Tony Parker, who was a pretrial detainee in 2017 at the Shelby County Jail when guard Korey McClure allegedly grabbed Parker’s genitals through his pants and also shoved the crotch of his own pants into Parker’s face.

McClure had previously worked at the jail, but he was fired in 2012 for failing to feed a prisoner. Sheriff Willis Blackwell rehired him, though, after which the guard allegedly sexually abused not only Parker but also another detainee, who after his release showed messages and a nude selfie that McClure had texted looking for oral sex or, in the alternative, a $200 bribe to help the detainee get out of jail. The detainee’s mother corroborated that she slipped $200 in cash to McClure through the jail fence.

McClure was arrested in August 2017 and indicted on related charges a year later. Meanwhile Parker’s case proceeded in the district court, which denied the Sheriff’s motion to dismiss under the doctrine of qualified immunity, saying Parker had “pled sufficient acts to state a claim that Sheriff Blackwell was negligent in rehiring McClure after he had been fired for violating the constitutional rights of prisoners.” It also said the Sheriff may have been negligent in failing to provide the guard adequate supervision and training. Blackwell appealed.

At the Fifth Circuit, the Court first noted that when considering a motion to dismiss, the relevant inquiry is whether “the plaintiff has alleged facts that raise a facially plausible claim,” citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). The motion should be denied when the alleged facts, if true, “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” for plaintiff, as held under Ruiz v. Brennan, 851 F.3d 464 (5th Cir. 2017).

That was the case here, the Court said, since “the alleged connection between McClure’s prior termination from the Shelby County Jail for abusing detainees and the alleged abuse of Parker and other detainees at the Shelby County Jail is sufficient to state a claim for deliberate indifference in rehiring McClure.” However, the allegation that Blackwell inadequately trained and supervised McClure is “generic, at best, providing no specific facts above the speculative level,” the Court said.

It therefore affirmed the denial of qualified immunity on the negligent hiring claim but reversed it on the inadequate training and supervision claim, remanding the case for further proceedings. Parker was represented by Timothy David Craig of Stuckey Garrigan & Castetter in Nacogdoches. See: Parker v. Blackwell, 23 F.4th 517 (5th Cir.).

The case has returned to the district court. PLN will report further developments as they are available. Meanwhile, criminal charges against McClure were dismissed on March 11, 2021, under an agreement made by former District Attorney Stephen Shires, who accepted McClure’s resignation in lieu of prosecution, citing illness of the 45-year-old former guard’s mother.  

Additional source: KTBS

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Related legal case

Parker v. Blackwell