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Articles by David M. Reutter

$12.6 Million Jury Award for Man Denied Medical Care Before Jailed

by David M. Reutter

A California federal jury awarded $12,617,674 to a man who suffered brain damage after San Diego County sheriff’s deputies pulled him away from an examining paramedic and hauled him off to jail.

David Collins called 911 on November 18, 2016, while hallucinating in his home. Deputies Matthew Chavez, David Sanchez, and Steven Block responded to the call. After assessing the scene and Collins, they left. Shortly afterward, Collins went outside his home and fell inside a soft planter close to his residence. Neighbors called 911.

A paramedic responding with the fire department was examining Collins when Sanchez, Chavez, and Block arrived at the scene. The deputies concluded that Collins was intoxicated and pulled him away from the paramedic, who had not completed his evaluation.

Collins’ civil rights complaint alleged that the paramedic found Collins was not intoxicated and that he had no injuries to his face when taken into custody.

Upon arrival at the Vista Contention Center, Collins “had a noticeable abrasion on the right side of his forehead, along with other scratches and bruising on his face. Nurse Jonathan Symmonds conducted the initial medial review and found no medical issues. He authorized placement into a ...

Cook County Jail’s Three Book Possession Policy Constitutional

by David M. Reutter

An Illinois federal district court granted summary judgment to Cook County in a civil rights action alleging a jail policy that limits its pretrial detainees to possession of three books violates the First Amendment.

The case has a “somewhat convoluted procedural history,” having been to the Seventh Circuit on appeal and was currently before the court after rehearing on Gregory Koger’s claim that a “constitutional violation occurred upon removal of the books from his cell and existed whether the books were destroyed, put in the jail library, or maintained and returned to him upon release.” See: Lyons v. Dart, 901 F.3d 828 (7th Cir. 2018).

The court began its analysis by citing precedent that holds that “Freedom of Speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read.”

It was clear that at some point guards confiscated more than 30 books from Koger without allowing him to choose which three books he wanted to keep, and he never saw those books again. This confiscation occurred as guards enforced jail policy that limited detainees to a total of three books or magazines, excluding religious material.

Jail officials asserted three rationales to support ...

Michigan Finding Success With More Humane Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

Michigan’s new approach to dealing with mentally ill prisoners is not only more humane, it is proving to be more effective at reducing recidivism.

When Heidi Washington took over as director of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) in 2015, she vowed to change the way mentally ill prisoners were treated. Eliminating their placement in solitary confinement was a top priority.

Woodland Correctional Institution used to be the W.J. Maxey Boys Training School, which was a facility that housed juveniles. It was retrofitted to provide acute and long-term psychiatric treatment. It treats 200 prisoners and houses another 150 to fulfill general prison jobs. There is no wait list for Woodland’s Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) and prisoners referred for Woodland by other prisons are usually transported there within 24 hours.

The average stay in Woodland’s CSU is seven days. Most of the prisoners are in Rehabilitative Treatment Services, a partial hospitalization program that lasts six months or longer. Woodland has a unit for prisoners with developmental disorders and houses about 50 prisoners with late stage dementia or mental illness that prevent management in other prisons.

The new approach has seen an 84% decline in the average number ...

Court Confirms Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Sentence in Tobacco Contraband Case

by David M. Reutter

Tobacco is a valuable commodity in jails and prisons because it is considered contraband. Maurice Dewayne Wakefield, II, went to great lengths with a group of prisoners to get another prisoner’s stash of tobacco. The price was a 9 to 18 year sentence.

When prisoner C.S. was transferred from F Block to E Block at Pennsylvania’s Blair County Prison on March 16, 2017, he had hidden loose amounts of tobacco and cigarettes in his shoes and rectum. Throughout the day, he sold the tobacco in his shoes to other prisoners for commissary items. “He also told others he had more but that he had to get it out of his rear,” the Pennsylvania Superior Court wrote in an opinion affirming Wakefield’s judgment of sentence.

Around 8:30 p.m., prisoners Allen Granger, Curtis Ramsey, and Zachery Moore attacked prisoner F.D.F. as he came out of the shower. They thought he was holding down C.S.’s stash of tobacco. He did not have it and got away from the group.

Later that night, Wakefield, Charles Frank, Granger, and Moore formed a semicircle around C.S. after he was lured into a cell. Ramsey blocked the door. They demanded the tobacco and ...

Guard Who Failed to Prevent Escape Entitled to Qualified Immunity

by David M. Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held on September 18, 2019 that a guard cannot be held liable under the Constitution for failing to prevent an escape.

In an attempt to apparently commit suicide, Tyson Salters, a pretrial detainee at the Kane County jail in Illinois, swallowed some cleaning fluid. He was taken to a hospital and ordered to remain in shackles. Guard Shawn Loomis disobeyed that order and removed the restraints when Salters requested to use the bathroom.

Once free of the shackles, Salters grabbed Loomis’ gun and escaped. As he terrorized hospital staff and visitors, Loomis hid. Three hours after being cornered, a SWAT team killed him. Two people at the hospital who claimed they were frightened but not injured sued Loomis, Kane County, the hospital and its security service.

The district court denied Loomis’ motion to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds, holding liability was created under the “state-created danger exception.” The county appealed.

The Seventh Circuit noted the plaintiffs did not allege that “Loomis intended harm to the Hospital’s staff, patients, and visitors – he appears, instead, to be a feckless coward, but the district judge thought that negligence leading to bystanders’ danger ...

$200,000 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Louisiana Jail Guard Sexually Abusing Juvenile

by David M. Reutter

A $200,000 settlement was reached to resolve a civil rights action alleging a guard at Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish Jail subjected a 15-year-old detainee to repeated sexual abuse.

The complaint stated that every day that guard Eddie Williams, 69, worked between June 2015 and January 2016, he subjected a female juvenile identified as “C.L.” to sexual abuse. According to the lawsuit, Williams asked to see her in her “birthday suit,” ordered her to get naked by taking off her top and bottom, told her to masturbate as he watched, ordered her to sit on the ground in her underwear and naked with her legs spread, and told her to stand in a specific spot prior to entering the shower.
Williams conducted this activity via intercom and viewed C.L. from a video-feed. His behavior “became more and more sexually suggestive and explicit during C.L.’s incarceration.” To persuade her to comply with his orders, he “bribed” her with candy and other food. Once, he allegedly said, “I don’t have any candy, but I have something else for you to put in your mouth.”

Williams also told C.L. he knew where her mother lived, and that he would “hurt ...

Pennsylvania GEO-Run Jail Boss Resigns After Media Reveals Complaints of Racism, Abuse at Private Prison

by David M. Reutter

The superintendent of Pennsyl­vania’s George W. Hill Correc­tional Facility, which is run by GEO Group, resigned in November after a media investigation uncovered a buried whistleblower complaint alleging racist and abusive behavior.

John A. Reilly, Jr., was recruited in 2001 as deputy superintendent George W. Hill. “When I came here, it was made clear to me that you’ve got to get up to speed to replace George, if something happens,” Reilly said of Hill, who had health problems. Hill retired in 2008, and Reilly replaced him.

“By then, the jail had attracted notoriety after a series of grim developments, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this year. “Twelve inmates died at the facility between 2002 and 2008, and lawsuits filed by their families against the prison company resulted in more than half a million dollars in wrongful-death settlements. Two years ago, GEO paid a $7 million settlement to the family of Janene Wallace, a mentally ill 35-year-old woman who had been incarcerated on a probation violation, and then hanged herself after 52 days in solitary confinement.”

One might wonder why an assistant prosecutor like Reilly would be tapped to run a private jail. Critics say it ...

Major Prison Health Care Companies Funnel Campaign Contributions to Sheriffs, Get Rewards

by David M. Reutter

Campaign contributions from private medical provider Wellpath to Virginia’s Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman may be legal under Virginia law but are raising ethical questions. Wellpath is already under federal investigation for a contract renewal in Norfolk County.

Wellpath was known as Correct Care Solutions until October of 2018. Correct Care obtained the contract to provide medical and mental health care to detainees at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center in 2005. It then began to make thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to former Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson.

Chapman was elected sheriff in 2012, and Correct Care made its first contribution to Chapman’s reelection campaign in 2014. Since then, Chapman has accepted at least $14,750 from the prison-profiteering health-care company. Wellpath has 245 contracts to provide health care to detainees across the nation.

It stays active in the political process. Over a 12-year period, Wellpath and Correct Care contributed around $41,000 to Virginia sheriffs. “This is so widespread and so common, it’s the status quo,” said Max Rose, executive director of Sheriffs for Trusting Communities.

Such contributions are “ethically questionable” said Chapman’s opponent for sheriff, Justin Hannah. “When the Sheriff is accepting political donations in ...

$1.15 Million Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Asthma Death

by David M. Reutter

Pennsylvania’s Erie County agreed to pay $1.15 million to settle a civil rights action alleging the county jail had a policy that “required a non-medical person to make a medical decision about what to do with someone suffering from a medical emergency.”

The lawsuit was filed by the estate of prisoner Felix L. Manus, 48, after he died following asthma complications. Manus was serving a three-month sentence for failing to pay $750 in child support; he was assigned to the work-release program at Erie County Prison (ECP), which allowed him to work during the day to earn money to pay his child support.

Along with four other prisoners, Manus was employed at the Erie Hunt and Saddle Club on May 30, 2018, “mowing grass, weed whacking, and painting in the hot sun,” the complaint stated. He asked near the end of the shift to switch from mowing grass to painting as he was having difficulty breathing.

Because he suffered from asthma, Manus carried an inhaler at all times. As he completed his work, Manus told another prisoner his inhaler was empty. When guard Joshua Pietas arrived around 4:15 p.m. to take the prisoners back to ECP, ...

Biden’s Current Prison Reform Stance Counter to His Abysmal Record

by David M. Reutter

After decades of leading the charge during the tough-on-crime era, Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is trying to fashion himself as a champion of prison reform. Since July 2019 his campaign website has included proposals to abolish the death penalty, legalize marijuana use and reform sentencing laws, as well as a push to “stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration.”

But that position is far from the one he took as a senator in 1989, at the height of a crime wave that led to many of the country’s anti-drug policies which encouraged mass-incarceration. Back then Biden went on television to criticize as inadequately harsh the plan of President George H.W. Bush to escalate the war on drugs.

“Quite frankly, the president’s plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand,” said Biden, who wanted not only tougher penalties for drug dealers, but also to “hold every drug user accountable.”

In criticizing Bush’s plan, Biden said it “doesn’t include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough ...