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Excessive-Force Claim by Now-Incarcerated Former Maryland Guard Survives

by Harold Hempstead

On September 2, 2021, the federal court for the District of Maryland denied a motion for summary judgment made by a state prison guard who is the defendant in a case brought by a prisoner who was himself a former guard, and who alleged he was subjected to excessive force during a cell extraction.

The prisoner, Jeffrey Corporal, 37, worked as a guard at the Baltimore City Jail before he was convicted in August 2007 of participating in the armed robbery of a convenience store clerk. “Because of his former employment,” the Court recalled, “Plaintiff has frequently refused to accept assignments to a cell with a cellmate” at Western Correctional Institution (WCI), where he is confined.

Corporal doesn’t dispute that on December 5, 2019, he refused to allow guards to uncuff a new cellmate to whom he objected. However, in the complaint he later filed, he said guards sprayed mace into the cell, which he managed to block with a chair, before they rushed inside to pull him out. Once on the floor outside the cell, he claimed he was lying passively and not resisting when guard Lt. J. Smith punched him before cuffing Corporal’s hands and dragging him to a property room. There the guard “immediately attacked [him] savagely,” the prisoner said, macing him again “for approximately fifty seconds” as he lay injured on the floor.

Corporal then filed his complaint in the Court pro se, accusing Smith and other prison officials of violating his civil rights, resulting in physical and emotional injuries for which he allegedly received inadequate medical care from their fellow defendant, jail nurse D. Showalter. Corporal also claimed that after the incident he was prevented from practicing his Christian faith and denied access to courts.

On February 5, 2021, the Court dismissed the complaint against Showalter and granted summary judgment to Smith on all claims except that he used excessive force on Corporal after removing him from the cell and taking him to the property room. Because Smith contended there was no further use of force after Corporal was removed from the cell, the Court said there was a “genuine dispute as to any material fact” which must be determined at trial, as provided by Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986).

The remaining defendants — WCI Warden Ronald Weber, state Corrections Commissioner Wayne Hill, and Secretary of Public Safety Robert Green — were granted summary judgment on all claims. See: Corporal v. Smith, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22764 (D. Md.).

After Smith’s attorney allowed Corporal to view surveillance video from the incident, he again moved for summary judgment for his client. But the Court noted that there was still a material dispute of fact, since Smith and his attorney failed to file a copy of the video with the Court. Given that dispute, and relying on Willingham v. Crooke, 412 F.3d 553 (4th Cir. 2005), the Court denied Smith’s claim of qualified immunity. It then also granted Corporal’s request for appointed counsel. See: Corporal v. Smith, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167016 (D. Md.).

The case is now proceeding to a trial, where Corporal will be represented by attorney Donald Paul Salzman of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in Washington, DC, with assistance from co-counsel Ariel V. Lieberman and Keyawna Griffith. See: Corporal v. Smith, USDC (D. Md.), Case No. 8:20-cv-01193. 

Additional source: Baltimore Sun

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Corporal v. Smith

Corporal v. Smith

Corporal v. Smith