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Articles by David Reutter

Hackers Breach Thousands of Security Cameras

by David M. Reutter

An international group of hackers gained access to the security cameras at 68 organizations that use Silicon Valley start-up Verkada, Inc. They got into cameras at schools, prisons, police departments, hospitals, and other companies.

The incident was reported in March 2021 after a hacker identified as Tillie Kottmann contacted Bloomberg News with details about the hack. Kottman said the breach was carried out by an international hacker collective. The intent behind the breach was to show the pervasiveness of video surveillance and the ease with which such systems can be compromised.

Kottman’s press release took credit for hacking Intel Corporation and Nissan Motor Company. The group’s reasons for hacking are “lots of curiosity, fighting for freedom of information and against intellectual property, a huge dose of anti-capitalism, a hint of anarchism—and it’s also just too much fun not to do it.”

The hack “exposes just how broadly we’re being surveilled, and how little care is put into at least securing the platforms used to do so, pursuing nothing but profit,” Kottmann said. “It’s just wild how I can see the things we always knew were happening, but we never got to see them.”

According to Kottman, ...

HRDC Prevails Over Wellpath as Vermont Supreme Court Rules Private Contractor Must Release Public Records

by David M. Reutter

The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that under the Public Records Act (PRA) when “the state contracts with a private entity to discharge the entirety of a fundamental and uniquely governmental obligation owed to its citizens, that entity acts as an ‘instrumentality’ of the State.” That conclusion led the Court to find that Wellpath was required under the PRA to release “any records relating to legal actions and settlements arising” from the care it provided to Vermont prisoners.

The Court’s September 3, 2021 order was issued in an appeal by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the publisher of PLN. From 2010 to 2015, Correct Care Solutions, now known as Wellpath LLC, held a contract with the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide medical care to every person in DOC’s custody. The contract paid Wellpath over $91 million.

In 2015, HRDC sent Wellpath a PRA request seeking public records relating to all payouts for claims, lawsuits, or contracts arising from Wellpath’s provision of services under that contract. Wellpath declined to provide the requested documents, asserting that as a private entity it was not subject to the PRA. HRDC sent another request for those documents in ...

Second Circuit Reversed Dismissal of Former BOP Prisoner’s FTCA Claim Against Dentist

by David M. Reutter

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a former federal prisoner’s complaint brought pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The court concluded that a state rule that requires an affidavit of merit to state a claim for medical negligence does not apply in federal proceedings.

The court’s August 25, 2021 opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Royce Corley. Acting pro se, Corley filed an FTCA complaint in federal court against a dentist and dental hygienist at FCI Danbury in Connecticut.

Corley alleged that on November 14, 2016, a dental hygienist damaged a filling in his wisdom tooth and broke a cap on one of his front teeth during a cleaning. A few weeks later, the cap on the front tooth fell off, exposing his chipped front tooth. Over the next few months, the dentist refused to replace the cap or repair the filling. The dentist attempted to extract the wisdom tooth on March 13, 2017, “in a painful procedure that caused the tooth to break into several pieces that were not entirely removed during the procedure.” The tooth remained in pieces, causing severe pain, bleeding, and infection along with ...

Indiana Prisoner Entitled to Credit Time During Period of Erroneous Liberty

by David M. Reutter

The Indiana Supreme Court held that a prisoner who was erroneously released early “is entitled to credit time as if he were still incarcerated during the period he was erroneously at liberty.”

The court’s June 21, 2021 opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Jordan Allen Temme. He pled guilty in 2017 to several charges under two different case numbers. Temme was sentenced to a total of nine years with the sentences running consecutive to one another on the two case numbers. His projected release date was December 2020.

Five of the nine years were for felony offense to be served in the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC). The other offenses were misdemeanors. Upon intake into IDOC, prison officials erroneously awarded 450 days of jail credit that were supposed to be credited to the misdemeanor offenses. That resulted in Temme being released to the Vanderburgh County Jail (VCJ) after serving only ten months of his felony sentences. He was also discharged from parole supervision.

After arriving at VCJ, Temme was again awarded the 450 days of credit. Although he raised questions that release date was too early, Temme was released on July 4, 2019, with ...

$731,000 Jury Award to Illinois DOC Prisoner Held 23 Months Beyond Release Date, Over $210k in Fees Awarded As Well

by David M. Reutter

An Illinois federal district court found that a prison records clerk deprived a former prisoner of his liberty and caused him to serve 721 days beyond his sentence. A federal jury awarded the former prisoner $721,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages.

That result was reached in a lawsuit by former Illinois prisoner Walter Brzowski, which he filed on December 28, 2017. According the complaint, in 2010 Brzowski was convicted and sentenced in two separate criminal cases. In the first case, he received two concurrent one-year sentences and four years of mandatory supervised release (MSR). In the second case, he was sentenced to two concurrent terms of three years and four years MSR. The two sentences were run consecutively for a total of four years and four to eight years of MSR. Brzowski completed his sentences on September 10, 2013 and was released.

Brzowki was arrested on October 1, 2013, for violating his MSR and he returned to the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) on November 29, 2013. He was found not guilty on October 10, 2014, of the offense that triggered his MSR violation. He then filed a habeas corpus petition stating that ...

Forced Shaving of Muslim Colorado Prisoner’s Beard Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a Colorado prisoner’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging a guard violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by forcing him to shave off his beard. The court found the prisoner’s complaint stated a claim and the guard was not entitled to qualified immunity.

The Court’s August 10, 2021 opinion was issued in an appeal by prisoner Tajuddin Ashaheed. He has practiced Islam for decades, following the Sunnah practice of leaving one’s beard to grow. He believes that shaving his beard would violate a core tenet of his faith.

The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) was well aware of Ashaheed’s beliefs. While serving a sentence in 1993, he signed a declaration of religious affiliation documenting his faith. He was allowed to grow a beard while serving that sentence. He was also allowed to wear a beard while serving a sentence in 2014 until his March 2016 parole.

He arrived at CDOC’s Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center to serve a short sentence for a parole violation. An intake officer verified Ashaheed’s religious affiliation and updated his file to reflect Muslim adherence. Once the intake process was complete, ...

PREA: Tackling the Nightmare of Prison Rape

by David M. Reutter

Movies and television often dramatize prison for entertainment purposes, and just as often the dramatizations are unrealistic. One aspect of prison life that cannot be overly dramatized—and is a reality for many of the imprisoned—is the prospect of being raped. For decades now, PLN has chronicled incidents of this human rights violation and the lawsuit settlements that come at taxpayer expense to compensate the victims that succeed in prosecuting such claims.

Rape inside the confines of a prison can come from predatory prisoners preying on the weak or mentally ill. Juveniles are the most vulnerable, and Congress found that they “are 5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult rather than juvenile facilities—often within the first 48 hours of incarceration.” The culture is such that rape is viewed as part of doing time, so guards are often indifferent to preventing prison rape. As PLN has reported over the years, guards are more often the problem because they are also perpetrators. PLN editor Paul Wright has noted, prison rape is such a pervasive and common issue nationally that it has to be seen as an integral part of modern American prison management.

“It forever changed ...

Protective Order Issued in Florida Solitary Confinement Lawsuit

by David M. Reutter

A Florida federal district court granted a protective order to protect “putative class members from retaliatory, chilling, or harassing conduct” and to prohibit “Defendants from improperly communicating with putative class members about th[e] lawsuit.” The court’s February 8, 2021, order was issued in a lawsuit challenging the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDC) practice of placing prisoners in isolation or solitary confinement.

The court previously entered a protective order on January 28, 2020, to prevent retaliation from being taken against prisoner Johnny Hill. [See PLN, June 2020, p. 59]. The allegations and testimony at the hearing on the current motion were similar to that alleged by Hill with the exclusion of physical assault.

The current motion alleged guards tried to intimidate prisoners who spoke to class attorneys, deprived them of meals, made them languish while restrained in showers and holding cells for hours as they awaited the chance to speak to the attorneys, and invaded the privacy of legal calls and conversations with counsel.

After holding a hearing and considering the testimony and evidence, the court found that “actual overt retaliation by prison officials, as well as threats of retaliation” existed. It said that prisoners “deserve the ...

Georgia Enacts Massive Probation Reform Bill

by David M. Reutter

A bill that went into effect on July 1, 2021, allows individuals to access termination of felony probation after three years if they meet certain requirements. The bill impacts up to a quarter of Georgia’s current probationers, creating a huge savings for taxpayers.

Before the bill went into effect, Georgia had 191,000 people serving probation sentences. That is more than any other state. Georgia’s probation system has serious racial inequalities. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be serving a probation sentence in every county in Georgia. In some counties, Blacks are eight times as likely as whites to be serving a probationary sentence.

The new law aims to make a huge change in those statistics. “Despite all the work we have done as legislators to reform and rethink the criminal justice system, Georgia still has the largest number of individuals serving probation in the country,” said Sen. Brian Strickland, who introduced the bill. “SB 105 addresses this problem by allowing individuals who have proven their rehabilitation through good behavior the ability to access early termination.”

SB 105 applies to persons convicted of a felony offense but have no prior felony convictions. It is limited ...

Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of HRDC Postcard-Only Suit Against Arkansas Jail

by David M. Reutter

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the postcard only policy of the Baxter County, Arkansas Jail and Detention Center (BCJ) constituted a de facto permanent ban on the First Amendment rights of publishers.

The Court’s June 8, 2021 opinion was issued in an appeal by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of Prison Legal News. BCJ in January 2012 initiated a policy to limit incoming detainee mail, except legal or privileged mail, to postcards. Between August 2016 and May 2017, HRDC sent three batches of materials to multiple BCJ detainees. Pursuant to its policy, BCJ  censored the materials.

HRDC sued, claiming the postcard-only policy violates its First Amendment rights to communicate with BCJ detainees and that BCJ violated its due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to notice an opportunity to appeal BCJ’s decisions. The district court granted partial summary judgment to HRDC, concluding the rejections were a “technical violation” of HRDC’s due process rights. It awarded $4 in nominal damages. The court also found there was no First Amendment violation. HRDC appealed both rulings.

The BCJ has one of the most draconian mail policies HRDC has encountered. Prisoners are not allowed ...