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$15,000 to Virginia Prisoner Mauled by DOC K-9

by Matthew T. Clarke

On December 14, 2023, the state of Virginia confirmed that it had agreed to pay $15,000 to settle a state prisoner’s lawsuit alleging retaliation and excessive use of force by officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) who deployed a K-9 dog that bit and injured him.

According to court documents, Michael Derrick Edwards was in his housing pod at River North Correctional Center (RNCC) on November 27, 2018, when guard Sgt. A. Murray brought him some documents from the prison’s law library. Murray also allegedly threatened Edwards about a lawsuit he had previously filed, threatened that he would not be on the compound long and said, “I’ve got something for you.”

During chow that afternoon, Edwards saw Murray speaking with a fellow guard, Sgt. M. D. Dean, who later stopped Edwards and took his coat but did not perform a pat search. Instead, Dean repeatedly asked him if he had threatened to kill Murray. To that Edwards replied, “no.” Edwards was ordered to stand by a fence with his arms raised, and Dean warned that he would “put him on the fence” if he took his arms down. When Edwards eventually lowered his arms, Dean slammed him face-first into the fence, and the prisoner punched the guard in the face.

The guard’s version of these events differed, but both parties agreed that a fight ensued. Once he had knocked Dean down, Edwards said he got onto the ground facedown to surrender. Nonetheless, canine handler J. D. Ayers had his dog bite Edwards while he was being pinned down by other guards. Edwards tried to stop the dog and got more bites, plus a beating, before he repeated his insistence that he had surrendered, only to be beaten some more.

Edwards said that he was given only minimal medical treatment. Then he was placed in a five-point restraint device for 16 hours with open wounds despite having ceased any resistance long before. Again guards disputed this version of events, saying Edwards’ wounds were mere “lacerations” and that he was “verbally abusive,” “aggressive” and “failed to comply” with the guards’ commands. After release from the restraint device, Edwards was transferred to Red Onion State Prison, a “super seg” lockup where he was held mainly in isolation. He was also convicted on multiple disciplinary charges and classified to Security Level S, Intensive Management.

Edwards then filed a pro se federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court for the Western District of Virginia, claiming his Eighth Amendment rights were violated by numerous named RNCC and DOC security and medical personnel. The various defendants filed motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. Edwards filed an unsuccessful motion for partial summary judgment. When the motions had all been heard, there remained as defendants: Dean, Lisa Parks, Nurse Clinician B, and D. Ball, L.P.N. See: Edwards v. White, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41300; and 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168661 (W.D. Va).

With a trial date looming, Virginia opted for a confidential settlement of the case for $15,000. The “confidential” part of that agreement was made apparent when PLN’s publisher, the Human Rights Defense Center, made a request for a copy of the settlement agreement under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Virginia Code § 2-2-2700, et seq. The three-page document sent to HRDC in response was almost completely redacted except for the title of the case and the amount of the settlement. This begs the question: What is DOC trying to hide? And why settle the case after fighting it for four years, claiming Edwards started the confrontation and continued to resist, requiring both the K-9 dog and restraint? See: Edwards v. White, USDC (W.D. Va.), Case No. 2:19-cv-00324.  

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Related legal cases

Edwards v. White

Edwards v. White

Edwards v. White