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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

Public Outcry Forces Florida DOC to Back Down on Limits to In-Person Visitation

by David M. Reutter

Following an onslaught of pressure from the public and action by the Florida legislature’s Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC), the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) was forced to withdraw a rule proposal to reduce in-person visitation time by half.

At an initial April 3, 2018 public hearing on the proposal, more than 100 people showed up to speak against the rule change. Prison officials had announced the hearing just a week earlier by filing a notice in the Florida Administrative Register.

“I really don’t want my visits or anyone’s visits to be taken,” said 11-year-old Cody Calhoun, who told prison officials he would be “devastated” if the change went into effect.

“Why would you even take [visits] away?” he asked. “I mean, they’re already having a bad enough time in prison. Why would you make it worse? Please. I need to see my dad on the weekends.... I love playing with him and it brings me closer to him.”

The FDOC, however, refused to back down.

“No one would argue that visitation isn’t valuable, that the family connections aren’t important, that having those connections contributes to the reduction of recidivism,” said FDOC ...

CoreCivic’s Actions Against Sexual Harassment Compel Reversal of Jury Verdict

by David Reutter

 The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Georgia federal district court’s grant of judgment of law for Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, in a lawsuit alleging it failed to take prompt remedial action against sexual harassment.

Felecia Wilcox worked for CCA’s federal prison, McRae Correctional Facility. She filed a formal complaint with CCA that alleged her co-worker, Larry Johnson, slapped her on the buttocks twice. CCA told Jackson not to associate with Wilcox or be anywhere around her.

In the days that followed that July 10, 2009, complaint, Jackson repeatedly rolled his eyes at Wilcox and once punched a machine in her presence to intimidate her. Wilcox filed a second complaint on July 23, reiterating the July 10 claim and stating she feared Jackson would touch her again, that he had touched her previously, and that he said he can touch her if he wanted to.

CCA brought in an outside investigator, who interviewed Wilcox. That investigator heard that two additional times Jackson had sexually harassed Wilcox and had made a sexually explicit remark on another occasion. The investigator also interviewed 16 other employees and learned that Jackson had sexually harassed several of ...

Sixth Circuit: § 1983 Actions Classified as Personal Injury Claims

by David Reutter

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held on January 22, 2018 that civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are considered personal injury claims. With that principle established, the Court found that such a claim can survive a plaintiff’s death and allow for party substitution under Ohio law.

Keith Crabbs was taken into custody in March 2012 after a court in Franklin County, Ohio revoked his bond. That revocation was based on Crabbs quarreling with a witness outside the courthouse and appearing late for his trial on a voluntary manslaughter charge.

Officials at the Franklin County Jail failed to collect Crabbs’ DNA pursuant to an Ohio statute that mandates collection of a DNA specimen from anyone “arrested on or after July 1, 2011, for a felony offense.” The failure to obtain a DNA sample triggered an “ID hold.” A jury acquitted Crabbs, but the hold required him to undergo a DNA cheek swab before he was released.

Crabbs sued Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott in his official capacity, alleging the DNA collection and ID hold policies, when applied to acquitted defendants, violated the Fourth Amendment. Crabbs died while the case was ...

PLRA’s Administrative Remedies Requirement Tolls Limitations Time but Not Accrual Time

by David Reutter

In February 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s administrative exhaustion requirement justifies the tolling of the statute of limitations, but not the creation of a new accrual time.

Arizona prisoner Angel Soto filed suit over an April 2010 incident in which he alleged guards beat him, stomped on him and kicked him in the head while he was on a mental health watch. He also accused guards of using excessive force by strapping him to a gurney and spraying him with Mace, and of sexually assaulting him by spraying Mace into his rectum.

After filing a grievance, Soto was sent to the Special Services Unit to document his injuries. Once there, he was told his complaint would be investigated and he could complete the grievance process once the investigation was over. It was not until April 2014 that the Criminal Investigation Unit finished its review, finding his sexual assault claim unfounded due to insufficient evidence.

Soto had restarted the grievance process several months earlier, and exhausted his administrative remedies on May 2, 2014. He then filed his civil rights action. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary ...

Jail’s Failure to Protect Juvenile from Sexual Assault Supports $25,000 Verdict

by David Reutter

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a $25,000 verdict in a civil rights action alleging the sheriff in Tulsa County, Oklahoma was deliberately indifferent to conditions that resulted in a 17-year-old prisoner being repeatedly sexually assaulted by a guard.

The lawsuit concerned events that occurred ...

Prison Grievance Coordinator’s Responses Rendered Administrative Remedies Unavailable

by David Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that an Indiana federal district court erred in dismissing a prisoner’s civil rights action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Court held the record indicated the prisoner was prevented from filing a grievance due to mixed or improper instructions from the grievance coordinator.

Indiana state prisoner Terry Davis filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging that on January 5, 2014, guards David Mason and Blake Thrasher punched him repeatedly, put him in a chokehold and placed a plastic bag over his head. He sustained two black eyes, broken teeth and possibly a broken nose.

Upon the district court’s invitation, the defendants moved for summary judgment based on Davis’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The court subsequently granted the motion and Davis appealed.

In a February 6, 2018 ruling, the Seventh Circuit found that in the days following the alleged assault, “Davis tried several times to submit grievances complaining about the incident, but none were processed.” Davis’ first two grievances resulted in his receiving “Return of Grievance” forms, saying they would not be processed because they raised a ...

New Orleans Parish Court System has Unconstitutional Funding Practices

by David M. Reutter

In December 2017, a Louisiana federal district court declared that the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court (OPCDC) had violated the constitutional rights of defendants by jailing them for failure to pay fines and fees without first determining their ability to pay. The federal court further found the parish judges had an inherent conflict of interest in determining whether defendants can pay the fines and fees, which comprise a large portion of the OPCDC’s budget.

The suit was filed on behalf of former criminal defendants who pleaded guilty and were ordered to pay fines and fees as part of their sentence. All were poor and had been arrested for failure to pay. In most cases, they spent several days or weeks in jail before being released, which came only after a payment or promise of payment was made to the court.

The OPCDC funds its court operations and staff payroll from a Judicial Expense Fund; it had annual revenue of $4 million from 2012 through 2015. Around half the revenue came from government entities while the remainder was from bail-bond fees, fines and court-ordered fees.

To collect the fines and fees imposed on defendants, the OPCDC created ...

Privacy Interests Outweigh Public Interest in Disclosure of AUSA Termination Letter

by David Reutter

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that privacy interests in not disclosing a 20-year-old proposed termination letter for a previous Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) outweighed the pubic interest under exemption 5 U.S.C. § 552(6)(6).

Howard Bloomgarden, represented by attorney Torrence E.S. Lewis, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for disclosure of a termination letter naming the AUSA. He asserted the letter was a public record as the AUSA was a government employee at the time. He also argued it could help him in his criminal appeals because the AUSA had prosecuted him, and it may show severe misconduct and laxness in the DOJ’s disciplinary process.

The district court acknowledged Bloomgarden’s motivation to obtain the letter because it involved his own legal proceedings, but clarified that it must consider the public’s interest, not the individual’s. The court granted summary judgment to the DOJ, holding the AUSA’s privacy interest in not being unduly embarrassed outweighed the public interest in disclosure.

The DOJ released over 3,000 pages of other documents related to the termination letter, but after an in camera review, the court ...

Federal Judge Voids Contract Between Death Row Exoneree and Attorney

by David Reutter

A North Carolina federal district court has voided a contract between death row exoneree Henry McCollum and his lawyer. The court’s unusual move was based on evidence that due to his low IQ, McCollum was vulnerable to manipulation.

As previously reported in PLN, McCollum and his brother, Leon Brown, were released after serving over 30 years for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. DNA evidence proved their innocence and revealed the crime was actually committed by Roscoe Artis – someone McCollum had served time with on death row and believed was his friend. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.58].

Cases such as McCollum and Brown’s became magnets for consultants and attorneys hoping to cash in on fees for the ensuing wrongful conviction lawsuits. Shortly after the brothers were released in September 2014, Kimberly Weekes, a consultant in Atlanta, heard about their situation and decided that she and her partner, Deborah Pointer in New York, could put pressure on the governor’s office to grant a pardon.

In January 2015, Weekes and Pointer signed a contract with McCollum and Brown to provide “advocacy and civil rights” services. The agreement included an advance payable to the consultants, plus ...

Georgia Medical Prison Rife with Dysfunction, Abuse and Dilapidated Conditions

by David Reutter

Poor sanitation, asbestos contamination, leaky roofs, inadequate health care, the loss of a top doctor frustrated with it all – those are just some of the problems that have plagued Georgia’s Augusta State Medical Prison (ASMP). Plus incidents of brutality by guards.

“These prisoners are often selected for abuse because they suffer from mental illness and have difficulty reporting assaults or being taken seriously when they do,” a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in August 2017 claims.

Photos of ASMP showing “garbage bags and empty boxes filling portable Dumpsters and spilling onto the floor” – even in a hallway outside the operating room – were obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in October 2017.

“At times,” the newspaper reported, “the bags almost reached the ceiling.”

Dr. Mary Sherryl Alston, ASMP’s medical director, wrote that the trash drew insects “of all varieties” into the operating room, and that during procedures mosquitoes had to be swatted away. The smell of garbage was noticeable.

“I am incredulous that such a discussion is still needed to address the problem within a facility that provides health care,” Dr. Alston wrote. “Simple solution: stop placing garbage by the OR now ...


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