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Eighth Circuit Affirms Denial of Qualified Immunity to Minnesota Jail Guard Accused of Grabbing and Squeezing Detainee’s Penis

by Mark Wilson

On August 24, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed denial of qualified immunity (QI) to a Minnesota jail guard in a prisoner’s claim that the guard grabbed and squeezed his penis during a strip search.

In December 2015, while incarcerated in the Ramsey County Jail, Wilbert Glover claimed that guard R. Paul “made me take off my jumpsuit” for a strip-search and then “took his hand and grasp[ed] my penis [and] squeeze[d] it hard and gesture[d].” Then, in January 2016, guard Tanner Hendrikt allegedly called him “Wilbert Nigger” before also touching Glover’s penis and commenting “it’s a big one.” A third guard, Albert Ross allegedly assaulted him, too, grabbing his buttocks and genitals during another strip-search in May 2016, when Glover said the guard also “punch[ed] me in my balls.”

After each incident, Glover complained to jail supervisors and filed “many grievances.” But supervisors Richard Rodriguez, Matt Bostrom and Joe Paget failed to respond to his complaints, he said. Glover then brought suit pro se in federal court for the District of Minnesota, lodging Eighth Amendment claims against all six guards. However, he did not properly serve Ross or Hendrikt, so they were dismissed. Rodriguez, Paget and Bostrom were then granted summary judgment; there is no constitutional right to have grievances processed, the district court noted, and the guards did not have notice of the alleged misconduct until after it happened, so they were entitled to QI.

That left only the claim against Paul. Although he denied the allegations against him, Paul provided “no factual detail in his affidavit,” and did not “state his version of events” nor “offer any corroborating evidence for his denial,” the district court noted, adding that it “could grant Paul summary judgment if he offered evidence to show Glover’s allegations were false. Or if Defendants had deposed Glover and exposed inconsistencies with his story, Paul might prevail on summary judgment. But ‘when competing narratives emerge on key events, courts are not at liberty to pick which side they think is more credible.’” While suggesting that Glover’s claim might be strengthened by more detail—such as whether “the gestures Paul made during the assault were sexual, offensive, or demeaning”—the district court said his allegations were “not so lacking that Paul is entitled to summary judgment.”

Paul appealed to the Eighth Circuit, arguing that the search was not improper, since “manual contact with a detainee’s genitals may be necessary as part of a search.” But the Court said the conduct that Glover alleged was not accidental; rather it was “intentional and gratuitous, and thus exceeded the legitimate purpose of a search.” If a jury found it true, it “constituted an unreasonable use of force that violated a detainee’s right under the Fourteenth Amendment.” Further, “the state of the law” at the time of the alleged assault gave Paul “fair warning” that it was unconstitutional, the Court said, so he was not entitled to QI. Thus the district court’s decision was affirmed. See: Glover v. Paul, 78 F.4th 1019 (8th Cir. 2023).

The case has now returned to the district court, where Glover attempted to remedy a failure to ask for punitive damages in his initial complaint. But his amendment request was denied on June 21, 2023. See: Glover v. Rodriguez, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106735 (D. Minn.). The district court then asked the parties to submit their settlement demands, but after reviewing the responses determined they were too far apart to schedule a conference. Glover continues to pursue victory, even one with limited damages. No trial date has been set, but PLN will update developments as they are available. See: Glover v. Rodriguez, USDC (D. Minn.), Case No. 0:19-cv-00304.  

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Related legal case

Glover v. Paul