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Articles by David Reutter

Kansas Uniform Trust Code Established Exclusive Venue For Prison Trust Fund Proceedings

by David Reutter

The Kansas Supreme Court held that a prison trust fund is an actual trust, subject to the provisions of the Kansas Uniform Trust Code (KUTC), therefore the lower courts erred in applying a general statute to establish venue instead of the specific statute that assigned exclusive venue.

Mike Matson, a Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) prisoner, filed a civil suit in the Leavenworth District Court alleging that KDOC's Internal Management Policies and Procedures had implemented fees against his prison trust fund in violation of state laws and the U.S.C. Fifth Amendment.

The suit was filed pursuant to the KUTC, K.S.A. 580-101, which specifies that the venue for a trust is the location where it was principally administered. However, without any hearing or opportunity to respond, Leavenworth granted the defendants' motion to transfer venue to the Norton District Court. The Norton court asserted that per K.S.A. 60-609(a), venue was authorized in its district because some portion of the suit could be heard in that county. The Norton Court granted summary judgment to KDOC.

Matson appealed in 2013. He argued that the district courts' reliance on the general statute, 60-609(a ...

Class Action Member May File Independent Suit to Protect Individual Need

by David Reutter

A California federal district court granted limited injunctive relief to a state prisoner in a deliberate indifference suit against the California Correctional Training Facility (CTF) doctors. The court held that an individual member of a pending class action suit was not barred from seeking relief on individual needs not protected by the suit.

In 2003, California prisoner, Eric Gonzalez was attacked by a cellmate because he was a sex offender. As a result, Gonzalez developed serious panic attacks and PTSD symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, paranoia, sleeping disorders, etc. as diagnosed by psychologist, Dr. Katz, in 2007.

In 2008, doctors unsuccessfully attempted to treat Gonzalez with medications and therapies. In October of 2008, the Mental Health Interdisciplinary Treatment Team (IDTT), inclusive of CTF's Dr. Katz, Dr. Bony, Ph.D., and Dr. Bill Zika concurred that Gonzalez had a serious mental health need that required placing him in a single cell for his safety. The IDTT recommended change of housing status to the "custody staff" who has authority to make housing changes.

In 2008, Gonzalez was placed in a single cell. In 2009, psychiatrist, Dr. Hutchinson interviewed Gonzalez and confirmed the diagnosis, added that Gonzalez's panic attacks ...

Prison Tattoos Tell a Story

by David M. Reutter

Tattoos are virtually a rite of prison passage, and the designs, where they are placed and what they signify often have more meaning than just self-expressive body ink.

Once considered taboo, tattoos have gained wider acceptance in today’s society, especially among the younger generation. About 23% of people sport a tattoo, though the rate among prisoners is typically much higher. Of Florida’s approximately 100,000 prisoners, nearly 75,000 have a total of 300,000 tattoos.

Florida’s prison system was the subject of two recently-published articles about tattoos because the Department of Corrections’ prisoner database lists tattoos by type and location.

A 2010 study found that prison tattoos reflect the criminal lifestyle; the study made a distinction between prison and non-prison tattoos, with prison tattoos being those obtained while incarcerated or that had images reflecting prison life such as clocks, spider webs, prison bars or gang-related symbols. The study included Texas prisoners and college students at Texas Tech University.

Prison tattoos were found to indicate the prisoner harbored “a greater commitment to the criminal lifestyle with an irrational perception of entitlements or sense of power.” They also “tended to blame others for their involvement in ...

Louisiana Death Sentence Reversed, Charges Dismissed, Lawsuit Filed

by David M. Reutter

Following the reversal of his homicide conviction by the Louisiana Supreme Court in November 2016, death row prisoner Rodricus Crawford, 29, was released on $50,000 bond after serving three years in prison. A new prosecutor reviewed the case and, on April 14, 2017, announced the dismissal of the charges.

Crawford, from Shreveport, was convicted in 2013 of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his one-year-old son, Roderius Lott. Attorney Cecelia Kappel, with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans, worked on Crawford’s case and recalled his faith that justice would eventually prevail.

“Every time I’d go see him on death row and say we lost another motion, he’d say, ‘I’m going home,’” she observed.

Crawford’s son had what seemed to be a cold when he slept with his father the last two nights of his life. The third morning, Crawford, then 22, found the boy was not breathing. Family members attempted CPR and called paramedics, who pronounced the child dead. They also noticed he had a split lip and bruise-like markings on his hip and head. Crawford later told police that his son had fallen in the tub when he went to ...

Tennessee: High Cost of Drugs Cited as Reason to Deny Prisoners Hep C Treatment

by David M. Reutter

Tennessee prison officials “turn a blind eye” to the medical needs of prisoners infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a class-action lawsuit filed in July 2016 alleges. While it is likely that almost half of all Tennessee state prisoners have the disease, prison officials cite costs as a reason to deny care to all but the sickest.

HCV, which has infected between 2.7 million and 3.9 million people nationwide, kills more Americans than HIV and dozens of other infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers at Emory University estimate that at least 17% of the nation’s 1.3 million state prisoners have HCV, on average. That is an epidemic level when compared to the estimated 1% of the general population infected with the disease.

Prison officials in Tennessee were, at one time, determined to identify prisoners who have HCV.

“We started for a while doing a hepatitis panel on everybody. And we stopped that because we found out there were too many people who had hepatitis C, and then if you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to do something about that [by providing medical care ...

Georgia Prison Doctor Rewarded for Cutting Costs as Prisoners Died Under His Care

by David M. Reutter

In September 2015, a Georgia prison doctor was fired for lying on his employment application. The misrepresentations were uncovered earlier that year during an investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) into the deaths of nine female prisoners under the doctor’s care. He was cited in a report for providing substandard treatment – as a direct result of which two women died. But a loophole in state law prevented the state medical board from disciplining him, and he now has an application to practice medicine pending in New Jersey.

The AJC investigation found that Dr. Yvon Nazaire had neglected prisoners in obvious distress and regularly canceled requested outside consultations. Prison officials ignored repeated red flags about Nazaire’s care of prisoners and even applauded his ability to control costs by giving him a pay raise.

Nazaire moved to Georgia in 2006 following a 20-year career as an emergency room physician in New York. When the Haitian-born doctor left, he had served less than a year of a three-year probation sanction imposed after being cited for gross negligence in the treatment of five ER patients; in one of those cases he failed to diagnose a 28-year-old patient’s heart ...

Michigan Court Forced to End “Pay or Stay” Policy

by David Reutter

A Michigan state district court judge was ordered to end a “pay or stay” policy that he used to toss poor defendants in jail for their inability to pay fines, fees and court costs.

The ACLU of Michigan assigned interns and fellows to watch the court proceedings of 38th District Court Judge Carl F. Gerds III, the only district judge in Eastpointe, Michigan. Time and again, the ACLU’s court watchers “routinely witnessed Judge Gerds impose sentences that required the defendant either immediately to pay the full amount of the fines, fees, and costs assessed or be sent to jail for a specified number of days.”

That statement came from Charlotte Bershbeck, a part-time, unpaid civil liberties fellow. “When imposing such sentences, Judge Gerds did not inquire into a defendant’s ability to pay,” she added.

The ACLU’s complaint was filed on behalf of Donna Elaine Anderson, who faced sentencing on a contempt charge for failure to license her dogs and appear in court on the dog license tickets. She was indigent and unable to pay $455 in fines, fees and costs, which subjected her to a near certainty of jail time under Gerds’ “pay or ...

Court Finds Treatment of South Carolina’s Mentally Ill Prisoners Unconstitutional

by David Reutter

In finding the treatment of South Carolina’s prisoners with “serious mental illness” is unconstitutional Judge J. Michael Baxley said that the case is “the most troubling” of those he has seen in more than 14 years on the bench.

At issue was a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of the approximately 3,500 prisoners in South Carolina prisons with “serious mental illness,” which is about 17% of the prison population. The court found six factors led it to find deliberate indifference in the care of those prisoners in the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC).

First, it found SCDC’s mental health program is severely understaffed. It also found disproportionate force and segregation used on the mentally ill when compared with non-mentally ill prisoners; SCDC’s mental health services lack a sufficient program to maintain accurate and complete treatment records; its screening and evaluation process is ineffective in identifying and treating seriously mentally ill prisoners; its administration of psychotropic medication is inadequately supervised and evaluated; SCDS’s suicide prevention and crisis intervention policies are inadequate.

The court said its findings “should not come as a shock to SCDC,” for despite previous internal and external reviews finding “multiple ...

Prisoners in Flint, Michigan Lied to About Water Crisis; Lawsuit Settles

by David M. Reutter

As the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan developed in 2015 and 2016, detainees held at the Genesee County Jail (GCJ) were told the water they drank, cooked with and bathed in was safe. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.22]. That lie was the subject of a class-action federal lawsuit that resulted in a quick settlement.

In October 2015, the Genesee County Health Department declared a public health emergency, telling residents that Flint’s water had dangerously high levels of lead. The mayor declared a state of emergency two months later, saying the city’s pipes were still leaking lead.

While residents avoided tap water, between October and December 2015 the prisoners at GCJ received only nine days of bottled water. Once the bottled water was discontinued, they “were required to drink, to bathe in, and consume food prepared with tap water from the City of Flint,” the class-action complaint stated.

GCJ again began to distribute bottled water on January 23, 2016, but prisoners were only given two 12-ounce bottles twice a day.

“Prior to this, they had already started handing out bottles of water when this first broke out in October, and they stopped, saying that ...

Michigan Court Forced to End “Pay or Stay” Policy

by David M. Reutter

A Michigan state district court judge was ordered to end a “pay or stay” policy that he used to toss poor defendants in jail for their inability to pay fines, fees and court costs. 

The ACLU of Michigan assigned interns and fellows to watch the court proceedings of 38th District Court Judge Carl F. Gerds III, the only district judge in Eastpointe, Michigan. Time and again, the ACLU’s court watchers “routinely witnessed Judge Gerds impose sentences that required the defendant either immediately to pay the full amount of the fines, fees, and costs assessed or be sent to jail for a specified number of days.”

That statement came from Charlotte Bershbeck, a part-time, unpaid civil liberties fellow. “When imposing such sentences, Judge Gerds did not inquire into a defendant’s ability to pay,” she added.

The ACLU’s complaint was filed on behalf of Donna Elaine Anderson, who faced sentencing on a contempt charge for failure to license her dogs and appear in court on the dog license tickets. She was indigent and unable to pay $455 in fines, fees and costs, which subjected her to a near certainty of jail time under Gerds’ “pay ...


 

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