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Articles by Edward Lyon

8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms dismissal of Nebraska prisoner’s jail rape claim

Rhonda L. Marsh, who was a prisoner in Nebraska’s Phelps County jail from June 22 to 27, 2012, alleged that during that time then-jailer Corporal Louis Campana raped her.

She sued Campana in his official and individual capacities, along with Phelps County, the sheriff and a supervising lieutenant.

After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to all defendants in their official capacities but allowed Marsh’s complaint against Campana in his individual capacity to proceed. Marsh appealed.

The appeals court found there was no actual notice of any pattern of Campana’s misconduct around the female prisoners, but he was promptly suspended and investigated when his misdeeds did become apparent.

The investigation was turned over to the state police and culminated in Campana’s prosecution and two-year prison sentence for felony criminal sexual conduct with five female prisoners.

The court refused to hold Sheriff Samuelson, Lieutenant Gregg and the county liable for Campana’s actions and held they had qualified immunity. Marsh was allowed to continue pursuing her rape claim against Campana in his individual capacity.

See: Marsh v. Phelps County, et al., Case No. 17-1260 (8th Cir. 2018). Additional sources:,

$380,000 settlement in Cook County Jail abuse case

by Ed Lyon

A 26-year-old law student and former medical student was held in Chicago’s Cook County Jail for 27 days. She was arrested for the non-violent misdemeanor offense and was being held for extradition to another state for a non-violent misdemeanor offense.

“Jane Doe,” despite her minimum-security classification ...

Family of Deceased Colorado Prisoner Accepts Settlement for $5.3 Million, New Policies

by Ed Lyon

On November 7, 2015, Michael Marshall, who was mentally ill, was arrested for trespassing and disturbing the peace at a motel in Denver, Colorado. Upon being booked into jail with a $100 bond, he was video recorded pacing in a walkway after refusing to remain seated. He resisted a deputy who grabbed him, causing five more guards to become involved; they held him down in a prone position and, according to a nurse, continued to put pressure on his neck after she told them to stop.

Marshall, 50, was taken to a hospital after choking on his vomit while being restrained. His family learned he had been arrested only after he was hospitalized, where he remained until he died nine days later on November 20, 2015.

Two deputies and a captain were disciplined in connection with Marshall’s death and placed on unpaid suspensions in May 2017. Deputy Bret Garegnani received a 16-day suspension because he “failed to exercise the least amount of force necessary to achieve his legitimate law enforcement or detention related function,” while deputy Carlos Hernandez and captain James Johnson were each suspended for 10 days.

Although Marshall’s death was ruled a homicide by ...

South Dakota Prisoner Fights Porn Ban in Federal Court

by Edward B. Lyon, Jr.

Charles E. Sisney, serving a life sentence since 1997, has been active in the courts on prison-related issues for years. His latest target is the 2014 version of the South Dakota Department of Corrections’ (SDDOC) pornography policy, which prohibits state prisoners from purchasing, possessing or manufacturing pornography or pornographic writings, and bans pornography in both incoming and outgoing correspondence. The 2014 policy superseded an earlier, less inclusive policy.

Specifically, Sisney challenged the censorship and rejection of various publications that were mailed to him, including “two erotic novels, Thrones of Desire and Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Edition, as well as four Japanese manga comics from a series called Pretty Face, nine images of Renaissance artworks depicting nudity, a book on Matisse and Picasso, and a poster featuring the iconic Coppertone suntan-girl advertisement.”

The district court granted summary judgment for Sisney, invalidating the 2014 policy “on its face.” The court then resurrected the superseded 2000 policy and used it to rule on all but one of Sisney’s as-applied challenges in his favor.

The SDDOC appealed and Sisney cross-appealed. The South Dakota American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship filed ...

Minnesota Prisoner Wins Reprieve from Jail Debt in Federal Court

by Ed Lyon

Erik Daniel Christianson spent time in the Martin County jail in Minnesota on four occasions between 2013 and 2014. Under state “pay for stay” laws, prisoners are required to pay $25 for each day spent in jail. Accordingly, Christianson accrued a total of $7,625 in jail debt.

Indigent persons are entitled to be absolved from such debts if they request a waiver. Christianson’s attorney, Bradford W. Colbert with Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, sent three letters to Martin County Sheriff Jeffrey Markquart, requesting debt forgiveness for his client. Receiving no answer to the first two letters, Colbert asked for either debt forgiveness or for Markquart to accept summons and service.

After receiving no reply to his third letter, Colbert filed suit on Christianson’s behalf. Markquart moved for summary judgment. Finding no genuine issue of material fact, and that Markquart had violated state law, the federal district court denied his motion.

The court held the Minnesota statutes were written with unambiguously mandatory language that require all sheriffs to implement policies and procedures to assess a prisoner’s ability to pay jail debt. Sheriff Markquart had wholly failed to obey the statutory ...

Virginia Prisoner Defeats Summary Judgment, Settles Religious Diet Case

by Ed Lyon

Aaron Carter is a Virginia state prisoner; he is also a member of the Nation of Islam. Due to his religion’s dietary restrictions, he was enrolled in the prison system’s Common Fare program (CFP), which serves both halal and kosher meals.

On October 1, 2015, the CFP ...

Illinois Prisoner Loses Use of Force Suit on Evidentiary Rulings

by Ed Lyon

Thomas Lovelace and another prisoner fought over some pencils on November 6, 2011, at the Dixon Correctional Center in Illinois. Guards handcuffed Lovelace and placed him in a van to be transported to a segregation unit.

Lovelace kicked at one of the van’s windows, breaking it. Guards allegedly beat him after moving him out of the van. They allegedly beat him again after placing him in another van and again after placing him in a segregation cell before reportedly taking his clothing, leaving him naked and alone.

A medical exam found tenderness on Lovelace’s side and one bruise. He reported back pain. He told a psychologist that guards "kicked my ass.”

At trial, he testified to sustaining a black eye that swelled shut, bruised ribs and an injured back.

The court would not allow the psychologist to testify that Lovelace told her that guards “kicked his ass,” ruling it hearsay. A prisoner witness’ deposition statement’s fear of not being returned to Dixon in retaliation for being Lovelace’s witness was excluded as comments whose prejudicial nature to the defendants outweighed their probative value.

The Seventh Circuit appeal court affirmed the trial court’s negative evidentiary rulings, agreeing ...

Michigan Prisoner Publishes Book, State Sues for His Proceeds

by Ed Lyon

Curtis Dawkins is serving life without parole in Michigan. He has been imprisoned since 2005, after a crack-fueled series of crimes committed on Halloween night the year before left Tom Bowman dead. Dawkins is also a fiction writer whose first book, penned during his incarceration, was purchased by Scribner, a major publishing house. Now Michigan officials want Dawkins’ earnings from the book to cover the cost of his incarceration.

Prior to his murder conviction, the 49-year-old earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. In prison, Dawkins began to write as a way to pass the time. He sent short stories to his sister, who submitted them to literary journals. Jarrett Haley of BULL, a small literary magazine, helped him assemble his collection of short stories and obtain the services of an agent.

The short-story collection is now a book titled The Graybar Hotel, which Scribner bought in the summer of 2016. Dawkins split the first payment of his $150,000 advance fee with Haley, putting $50,000 in a fund to pay for his three children’s college tuition and school costs, text books and supplies, and dental and medical care.

Many states forbid prisoners from ...

Inadequate Health Services for Native American Prisoners

by Edward B. Lyon, Jr.

Members of various Native Americans tribes live in reservations across the United States, where they police themselves and maintain tribal jails for detention. Federal funds are used to operate those facilities and a multitude of agencies – including the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Interior Department, and Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service (IHS) – contribute to daily operations and medical care for approximately 80 jails scattered between Alaska and Mississippi.

The facilities house around 2,500 prisoners, and the BIA exercises oversight for all the jails and manages about 20 of them. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.15].

Inadequate medical staffing at tribal jails results in guards having to dispense medications, a job they are not qualified to perform, which has resulted in prisoners sometimes not receiving correct medications. Further, one prisoner in a Washington tribal jail pounded on his cell door for hours, begging for pain medication for his broken leg, but never received any. At another facility, according to a March 31, 2018 Los Angeles Times article, a diabetic prisoner was not provided with insulin.

“It’s not really safe for really anybody,” said Lynette Bonar, chief executive of ...

California Prison Psychiatrist Faces Harassment, Retaliation from State Officials

by Ed Lyon

Psychiatrist Anthony Coppola, employed in California’s prison system, was a warden’s dream employee. He often worked overtime and on his days off when his primary job at a prison in Tracy, California was short staffed. As a result of his hard work, he amassed a huge backlog of vacation time.

State employees are allowed to “bank” their leave, or vacation time, and cash it out when they retire. Banked leave can accumulate to six-figure amounts in some cases. Coppola, 53, chose to reduce his accumulated leave by scheduling several days off each week at the prison, then used that time to work at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County. His combined income for 2016 was $542,000 – $309,000 from his state job and $233,000 from the county.

Such double-dipping by having two jobs is not a prohibited practice. A San Francisco Bee investigation found nearly 900 other prison health care professionals had permission to work two or more jobs, including 89 who were employed by two state agencies.

“It was approved. He didn’t do it on his own,” said Coppola’s attorney, Brian Crone. “He went through his chief of mental health. The ...


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