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Articles by David Reutter

Almost $1.1 Million Awarded to One-Legged Pretrial Detainee Forced to Hop to California Jail Cell

by David M. Reutter

After a jury in the federal court for the Northern District of California awarded $504,000 in compensatory damages in the excessive-force case he brought against the San Francisco Jail, a former pretrial detainee was awarded another $14,034.31 in legal costs on November 28, 2022, followed by ...

Florida Solitary Confinement Lawsuit Dismissed

by David M. Reutter

On December 14, 2022, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) successfully beat back a challenge to use of solitary confinement in its prisons, when prisoner/plaintiffs stipulated to dismissal of their claims. Not content with that victory, apparently, DOC then issued a press release on January 12, ...

Four Hawaii Prison Guards Sentenced for Beating Prisoner – But One Wins Back-Pay

by David M. Reutter

On January 17, 2023, the last of four former Hawaii prison guards convicted of beating a state prisoner was sentenced to federal prison. The sentences ranged from one to 12 years. Three of the guards – Jason Tagaloa, 31, Craig Pinkney, 38, and Jonathan Taum, 50 – were convicted by a federal jury in July 2022 of assaulting the prisoner in June 2015 at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center; they also were convicted of trying to cover up the crime by submitting false reports between June 2015 and December 2016.

The prisoner, Chawn Kaili, suffered a broken jaw, nose, and eye socket from the two-minute beating in a prison recreation yard. Surveillance video captured Kaili being escorted across the recreation yard by one guard, who was then joined by the other three. Though the prisoner was nonviolent, they took him to the ground and beat him.

Tagaloa “delivered the most vicious punches and kicks to the victim’s head,” prosecutors said. Pinkney held the prisoner down as Tagola delivered the beating. Prosecutors said Taum supervised the beating and orchestrated the conspiracy to cover it up.

The fourth guard, Jordan DeMattos, 31, pleaded guilty in December 2020 and ...

$1 Million Settlement Reached After Detainee’s Suicide in Washington Jail

by David M. Reutter

In November 2022, a $1 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a 23-year-old indigenous woman who committed suicide at Washington’s Fork City Jail in 2019. Kimberly Bender took her own life following weeks of alleged sexual harassment by guard John Russell Gray.

The October 2021 federal civil rights complaint alleged that Bender, a Quileute tribal member, had a history of criminal offenses as well as mental health issues, including depression and past suicide attempts. Jail officials knew or should have known that history, the complaint continued, because Bender was in and out of the jail between July and December 2019.

The complaint alleged that while Bender was locked up in July 2019, Gray sexually harassed her with verbal comments, as well as committing sexual misconduct towards two other prisoners – all part of a quartet of victims he was convicted of sexually assaulting, receiving a 20-month prison term in May 2021.

The jail had hired Gray in April 2019, after he was removed in 2018 from Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) by the state Department of Corrections for making inappropriate sexual comments during Prison Rape Elimination Act training.

Bender was ...

Arkansas Parole Board Denies Release to Sex Offender For Failure to Find Appropriate Housing

by David M. Reutter

On February 2, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas dismissed a state prisoner’s habeas corpus petition challenging denial of his parole because he did not have approved sex offender housing. While bad news for him, the decision is instructive for any prisoner facing housing restrictions when paroled or on probation.

Charles Isaac Wilson, Jr., is serving a 40-year sentence for a 2010 conviction for delivery of cocaine. In November 2021, the state Parole Board recommended he be transferred from the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to supervision of the state Division of Community Correction (ACC). But that transfer hit a snag because Wilson was convicted in 1983 of rape, which classifies him as a Level 3 sex offender. A transfer to ACC required Wilson to (1) register as a sex offender and (2) stay away from schools and parks.

According to DOC Director Dexter Payne, none of ACC’s approved transitional housing facilities had an available bed for a Level 3 sex offender at that time. There were no family members or friends willing to provide housing for Wilson. He provided two parolee plans to for living arrangements outside transitional housing, but ...

Oregon Parole Hearing Exclusion Rule Invalidated

by David M. Reutter

The Oregon Court of Appeals on November 23, 2022, held that the state Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision exceeded its statutory authority when it adopted a rule that excludes prisoners convicted of aggravated murder – including those for whom an initial parole release date has been set – from personal review eligibility.

Before the Court was a petition filed by Oregon prisoner Jacob Barrett that challenged the validity of the Board’s new rule, OAR 255-040-0005(5). That rule provided, in relevant part, that “inmates sentenced for aggravated murder … are not subject to personal reviews.”

The Court’s opinion began with background on aggravated murder sentencing. It noted that there are only three sentencing options for a conviction of aggravated murder: (1) life imprisonment; (2) life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole; or (3) death.

If a defendant is sentenced to life imprisonment, the trial court will order imprisonment “for a minimum of 30 years without possibility of parole or release to post-prison supervision … and without the possibility of release on work release or any form of temporary leave or employment at a forest or work camp.”

After completing that minimum three-decade period, the ...

San Diego County Pays $4.35 Million After Jail Guards Failed to Stop Detainee From Blinding Herself

by David M. Reutter

The County of San Diego agreed on September 14, 2022, to pay $4.35 million to settle a lawsuit alleging a guard at the county lockup stood by and failed to stop a detainee high on meth from clawing her eyes out.

Tanya Suarez was taken into custody on May 6, 2019, after police found her wandering outside a motel where she had taken drugs. Suarez, 23, a student at San Diego State University, had started experimenting with meth. On the evening of her arrest, that “experiment went terribly wrong,” according to the complaint later filed on her behalf.

After she was booked into the Las Colinas women’s jail, she began acting oddly and started clawing at her eyes. In a delusional hysteria, Suarez screamed at guards to shoot her. She also voiced suspicion that they and medical staff were going to torture her.

Guards tried to restrain her, handcuffing her and placing a spit sock over her head – even clipping her nails so that it would be more difficult to harm herself, though one deputy admitted the attempt left her nails looking more ragged. A surveillance camera than captured the moment six minutes later when ...

$120,000 Paid to Muslim Detainees for Discrimination by Maryland Jail

by David M. Reutter

On March 31, 2023, the federal court for the District of Maryland granted dismissal to a suit by a former detainee at the Prince George’s County lockup, after he and co-Plaintiffs accepted a settlement resolving their claims that the county Department of Corrections (DOC) operated under an “Islam-specific policy,” singling out Muslim detainees for less-favorable treatment than that afforded to practitioners of other faiths.

While awaiting transfer to the state Department of Public Safety, Enrico Brown said that he and other Muslims detained at the Prince George’s County Detention Center were prohibited from performing religious services, engaging in daily congregational prayers, wearing religious headwear or other clothing items, receiving certain mail and even accessing a Kosher meal.

Brown’s handwritten complaint was filed pro se with the Court in July 2019, a year and a half after attorneys with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, DC, filed suit on behalf of another group of jail detainees making similar claims. Those lawyers then took on Brown’s case and filed an amended complaint for him in 2020. As the group argued, the jail didn’t allow Muslims to congregate in small groups for prayer, a privilege it extended ...

$50,002 Jury Award to Illinois Prisoner Retaliated Against for Daughter’s Facebook Posts

by David M. Reutter

On March 30, 2023, a jury sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois awarded $50,002 in damages to state prisoner Larry ‘Rocky’ Harris on his claim that prison officials punished and transferred him to a less desirable lockup because of what his daughter posted on her Facebook account.

Harris, now 64, filed his pro se federal civil rights complaint on March 27, 2017, accusing Warden Victor Calloway at Danville Correctional Center (DCC) of throwing the prisoner in segregation in retaliation for Facebook posts made by Amanda Carrasco, Harris’ daughter. In those posts she claimed that a DCC guard was stealing from prisoners’ canteen orders, purposely overcharging them and stealing taxpayer’s money.

As the prisoner’s complaint later recalled, guard Lt. Charles Campbell wrote a disciplinary report after the posts were discovered, charging Harris with engaging in “Threats and Intimidation.” The guard supported that charge by stating the Facebook posts created a “Hostile Work Environment.” The DCC Adjustment Committee agreed and found Harris guilty. Among other sanctions, it ordered a disciplinary transfer to Big Muddy River Correctional Center.

On September 30, 2019, the district court took up the case, first agreeing with Defendants ...

HRDC Granted Injunction to End Censorship in Arkansas Jail

by David M. Reutter

On March 31, 2023, the federal court for the Western District of Arkansas concluded that a “postcard-only” policy at the Baxter County Correctional Center (BCCC) constituted a de facto blanket ban on publications, in violation of the First Amendment rights of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of PLN.

HRDC sued Baxter County in 2017 to enjoin the jail’s policy prohibiting all detainee mail except for legal mail and postcards. When the nonprofit attempted to send copies of PLN or its sister publication, Criminal Legal News (CLN), jail officials refused them– though they helpfully offered to deliver the issues if they were reprinted on postcards.

That “postcard-only” policy prevented HRDC from sending its publications and informational packets to anyone held at BCCC. After a three-day trial in April 2019, the district court found the policy was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and did not violate HRDC’s First Amendment rights. HRDC appealed.

On June 8, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed. It remanded for the district court to more broadly assess the second factor under Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), to determine “whether HRDC proved its assertion that ...