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Articles by David M. Reutter

Will Trump grant more pardons and clemency as campaign season heats up?

by David M. Reutter

The president has unfettered discretion under the U.S. Constitution to grant pardons and clemency to persons convicted of federal crimes. President Trump has used this power to grant mercy to people to whom he feels have been treated “unfairly” by the judicial system.

Trump’s first commutation ...

$185,000 Settlement in Beating of Florida Jail Prisoner; Guard Convicted

by David M. Reutter

Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) has paid $185,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a jailer assaulted a pretrial detainee.

Audra West was booked into the North Broward Detention Facility on April 2, 2014 for disorderly intoxication, trespass and resisting arrest without violence. While sitting in a waiting area during processing, West asked guard Kristen Connelly for a sanitary pad or tampon because she was having her menstrual period and blood was dripping down her legs.

Connelly told her to ask nicely, but after West said please, the guard told her she was not getting the sanitary product, stating that since West had entered the jail she had displayed an attitude toward her. West said under her breath, “Fuck you.” Connelly heard the remark and asked West to repeat it. She complied. 

In response, Connelly came around the desk area and guard Henry Lawrence, anticipating she was going to act violently, warned her not to take action. Connelly, however, was seen on video hitting West twice in the face. She then grabbed West and started “swinging her back and forth,” a witness said. The video was publicly released in June 2015. [See: PLN, Nov. ...

$1.1 Million Settlement for Michigan Parole Officer in Sexual Harassment Suit

by David M. Reutter

The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit alleging parole officer Shannon Woods was subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment for complaining about the harassment.

Her suit alleged that immediately after being hired as a parole officer in April 2011 in the MDOC’s Lawton Parole Office, she was subjected to a “sexually hostile work environment by co-worker Ryan Johnson.” Johnson asked Woods “incessantly to go to lunch, dinner, and drinks,” which she refused.

The complaint also alleged that Johnson rubbed Woods’ shoulders at work in a sexual manner and forcibly kissed her, and that he  would come to Woods’ “desk and sit on her desk with his genitals bulging through his crotch and near her.” In November 2013, Johnson “took out his penis and placed it on top of a wine bottle, took a picture of it, and then texted it to Ms. Wood and asked her ‘did she like the picture.’”

Woods reported the conduct to her immediate supervisor, Monica Burton, but the abuse continued. After Woods filed a formal complaint with the MDOC, she was ostracized, retaliated against and labeled a “snitch” ...

Tennessee Jail Sexual Assault Lawsuit can Proceed, Federal Court Rules

by David M. Reutter

A Tennessee federal district court has held the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Esco Jarnagin can be held liable for the sexual assault of a pretrial detainee. The ruling was based on long-standing deficient conditions at the Hamblen County Jail (HCJ).

The Tennessee Corrections Institute conducts annual inspections of local jails in the state. The inspection reports for HCJ from 2010 to 2017 revealed “a number of deficiencies including overcrowding, insufficient security checks, inadequate checks, inadequate staffing, difficulty with properly classifying inmates, failure to provide information about reporting sexual assault to inmates, and many incidents of inmate-on-inmate assault,” the district court noted. The Tennessee Corrections Institute recommended that HCJ be decertified for failing to meet minimum jail standards.

Following an arrest for the manufacture, delivery, sale or possession of methamphetamine, Zackery Beck was booked into HCJ on October 4, 2016. While a guard was escorting him to a cell, another prisoner warned the guard not to put Beck in “little Mexico,” because it would be “bad for him.” Nonetheless, Beck was placed in an area of the jail known as “the slams,” which has four-bed cells.

While there, two of Beck’s cellmates, in conjunction with ...

$30,000 Settlement for Pennsylvania Pretrial Detainee Subjected to Excessive Force

by David M. Reutter

A $30,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit alleging that guards at the Clinton County Correctional Facility (CCCF) in McElhattan, Pennsylvania used excessive force on a pretrial detainee. The suit also claimed that medical staff failed to treat him for his injuries.

Joel R. Snider was at CCCF awaiting disposition of a murder charge; he subsequently pleaded guilty but mentally ill, and received a 30-to-60-year sentence. Prior to entering the jail, he had been diagnosed with serious mental illness, depression and chronic paranoid schizophrenia. Snider regularly heard voices and experienced delusions despite repeated increases to his medication.

His mental condition resulted in frequent behavioral problems. Snider’s complaint alleged that CCCF staff failed to take his “disability into consideration or provide him any accommodations during the disciplinary process.”

The lawsuit alleged two different incidents of excessive force. The first occurred on February 28, 2013. Snider complained to a lieutenant that several guards were stealing his religious material and one was harassing him. The lieutenant said he would take care of it, and “resolved” the issue by having a disciplinary report written against Snider.

That necessitated a move to “the hole.” While being taken to segregation, guards “tackled” ...

Mumia Abu-Jamal to Receive New Appellate Hearing

by David M. Reutter

“In order for the criminal justice system to stand, justice must be completely just,” Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker wrote in an order granting former death row prisoner and PLN columnist Mumia Abu-Jamal an opportunity to appeal his 1981 conviction for killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal, 64, an award-winning journalist, has maintained his innocence since he was arrested. In 2011, his death sentence was overturned based on erroneous jury instructions and he was resentenced to life without parole. Abu-Jamal and his large base of supporters have continued their decades-long fight to exonerate him – or at least to obtain a fair trial.

The latest attempt focused on Ronald D. Castille, former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who had ruled on a number of Abu-Jamal’s appeals between 1998 and 2012. Castille had served as Philadelphia’s district attorney from 1986 to 1991. 

“There is no evidence that Justice Castille was directly involved in the case as a prosecutor,” Tucker wrote in his December 28, 2018 order, “but it would be difficult for a judge in his position not to view a case being reviewed on appeal that was handled ...

$60,000 Settlement for Female Pennsylvania Prisoner in Sexual Assault Suit

by David M. Reutter

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit claiming a female prisoner at Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) was “repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted by numerous corrections officers over the course of a decade.” The suit alleged a “culture acquiescing to the sexual harassment and sexual abuse” of female prisoners at the facility.

The case was brought by Shannon Marie Parchinski, who said as far back as 2002, LCP had received reports of female prisoners being sexually harassed, assaulted and raped. Her complaint accused LCP administrators of being aware that guards Joseph Shnipes, Joseph Black and Lt. Verne Dittfield had engaged in sexual abuse and misconduct. Black worked at LCP until 2011; he was subsequently convicted of sexually assaulting five female prisoners, and received four to eight years in prison. [See: PLN, Dec. 2018, p.26].

Prisoners who were sexually abused by Dittfield were known by other prison staff members as “Daddy Dittfield’s Girls.” Parchinski’s lawsuit listed two dozen female prisoners who had been sexually assaulted by 10 different guards.

Parchinski alleged she was sexually harassed by Shnipes and forced to manually stimulate Black. She also had sexual intercourse with guard Jeff Staff once while she ...

$118,000 Attorney Fee Award in Pennsylvania DOC Public Records Case

by David M. Reutter

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania awarded $118,458.37 in attorney fees in a public records suit brought by Uniontown Newspapers. The award followed the court’s finding that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) had acted in “bad faith” by not producing the requested records.

Reporter Christine Haines with the Herald-Standard in Uniontown was investigating the potential effects of a coal fly ash dump on the health of prisoners at a nearby prison. In 2014, she requested records concerning prisoners’ medical conditions. The PDOC refused to provide the documents, arguing they were exempt under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. The newspaper successfully appealed to the state Office of Open Records; prison officials then produced 15 pages of charts that showed how many prisoners suffered from various illnesses and how many had died from cancer. Not convinced it had received all the requested records, the Herald-Standard filed suit alleging prison officials had acted in “bad faith.”

After four years of litigation and a trial, in March 2018 the Commonwealth Court held the PDOC “did not make a good faith effort” to determine if it possessed or had access to all of the requested records. “An agency’s failure to locate responsive records ...

$30,000 Settlement in Pennsylvania Jail Excessive Strip Search Suit

by David M. Reutter

Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County Prison (LCP) paid $30,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a female pre-trial detainee was strip searched four times over her three-day stay at the facility.

Rebecca Brown was arrested on March 25, 2016 and taken to LCP. She was strip searched upon being booked into the jail and again a short time later. Before she appeared before a judge on March 28 to request that her bench warrant be lifted, she was strip searched a third time. The judge subsequently lifted the warrant and ordered Brown’s release.

Rather than being promptly freed, she was taken back to LCP. Once again, she was strip searched and then had to wait five hours to be released. Her complaint also alleged that she was deprived of a CPAP machine at LCP to treat her sleep apnea.

Brown filed suit in March 2018 alleging violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Her complaint accused LCP guards of intentionally conducting the strip searches “in a manner that was unreasonable and excessive under the circumstances.” It further claimed that Lancaster County had a policy or custom of conducting “unreasonable ‘strip’ searches of persons without justification and after being ...

Florida: No Qualified Immunity for Jail Medical Staff in Prisoner’s Death

by David M. Reutter

Florida federal district court has held that a doctor and nurse at the Orange County Jail (OCJ) were not entitled to qualified immunity in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a pretrial detainee who died at that facility.

Max Gracia, Jr., 22, was treated at a local hospital for severe dog bites to his legs and hands that were incurred during his arrest on August 6, 2015. After being booked into OCJ, Gracia was assigned to a call in the infirmary. In addition to the multiple dog bites, medical staff were aware that Gracia was HIV positive; while he was given other medications, he did not receive the drugs needed to treat his HIV infection.

Dr. Robert J. Buck III was OCJ’s medical director and its sole doctor. He saw Gracia around the time of his admission, but never saw or inquired about him afterward. 

Medical records indicated that Gracia’s wound dressing was changed daily but his vital signs were not taken until August 9. At that time he had an abnormal heart rate of 130 and a respiratory rate of 22, and complained of “weakness and dizziness.” Other than ordering increased fluid ...