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$21,525 Awarded by Federal Court to Indiana Prisoner Subjected to Battery by Guard

by David M. Reutter

A federal district court in Indiana awarded $21,525 to a prisoner on May 30, 2021, after granting partial summary judgment in a civil rights action he filed alleging battery by a guard at the state’s Pendleton Correctional Facility.

The lawsuit was filed pro se in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana by prisoner Tony Lionel Love on November 14, 2018, alleging a violation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Specifically, Love said that on February 18 of that same year, while standing outside a medical evaluation cell in preparation for a medical visit, he was assaulted by guard Sgt. Matthew Prestel, “without provocation.”

After “push[ing] then shov[ing] [Love] onto the bed while striking him,” the complaint continued, Prestel climbed on top of Love “to inflict strikes on his head and face,” using his elbow “to choke him, causing him not to be able to [breathe].” When Love was finally able to say he couldn’t breathe, Prestel replied, “Who gives a shit?”

Love then passed out. But another guard witnessing the incident told Prestel to stop. Prestel then filed a report that accused Love of assaulting him, but he made no mention of striking or punching Love. As a result, Love was charged with assaulting the guard and placed in segregation.

After an Internal Affairs investigation, the charge was dropped. Love was released from segregation, having spent 15 days there undeservedly, and Prestel was terminated from employment at the prison on March 5, 2018.

After Love filed his suit and motion for summary judgment, Prestel let the deadline pass to file a response. Love then also moved for default judgment. On June 15, 2020, the Court granted Love’s motion in part, finding “on the undisputed facts that the use of force was wanton and unnecessary” and agreeing that summary judgment was warranted to hold Prestel liable for violating Love’s Eighth Amendment guarantee to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. See: Love v. Prestel, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104351 (S.D. Ind.).

Taking up the issue of damages next, the Court found that in addition to a brief period of unconsciousness, Love suffered pain from his injuries, which included abrasions and a sore jaw, for about six weeks. He also lost $25 in pay from missing his prison job during the 15 days he was in segregation.

Thus the Court awarded Love not only $10,000 in compensatory damages for injuries sustained from the battery Prestel inflicted upon him but also another $25 for his lost wages. The Court further found a per-day rate of $100 was reasonable compensation for the time Love spent in segregation based on Prestel’s false report, resulting in an additional $1,500 compensatory damage award.

Finally, the Court awarded $10,000 in punitive damages. That brought the total award to $21,525, to which the Court also added any costs Love incurred in the litigation. See: Love v. Prestel, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102519 (S.D. Ind.). 

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Related legal cases

Love v. Prestel

Love v. Prestel