Skip navigation

Articles by Jacob Barrett

$120,000 Settlement Reached With Long Island Detainee Assaulted by Jail Guards

by Jacob Barret

On April 27, 2023, the Ways and Means Committee of New York’s Suffolk County legislature approved a $120,000 settlement with a former detainee assaulted by guards at the county lockup. In addition to the payout, the case is notable for the length of time it took for the wrong to be redressed – nearly 17 years – as well as the county’s long-game legal strategy.

Proceeding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs can pursue civil rights claims against jail guards and other municipal employees. However, recourse against the municipal employers requires showing a “pattern, custom or practice” that led to the violation, as laid out in Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). If the municipality successfully argues that the constitutional violation was caused by a lone “bad apple” employee, it avoids liability. But if the victim shows that the municipality permitted the circumstances under which the employee committed the violation, a court may hold the municipal government liable – providing powerful incentive for the municipality to mend its ways.

Yet municipalities often attempt to bifurcate such claims. They argue that it is more efficient to first prove a violation against an employee ...

$17.675 Million Paid for New Yorker’s Wrongful Conviction

by Jacob Barrett

Johnny Hincapie spent more than 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. On December 7, 2022, New York City agreed to pay Hincapie $12.875 million for his wrongful conviction, one of the largest such settlements in city history. A separate claim had previously been settled with the state of New York for $4.8 million in October 2022, according to Hincapie’s attorneys, Baree N. Fett and Gabriel P. Harvis of Elefterakis, Elefterakis & Panek.

Hincapie, who was originally born in Columbia, was 18 years old in 1990 when he and several other youths were accused of fatally stabbing Utah tourist Brian Watkins, 22, on a subway platform. Under pressure from police, Hincapie was coerced into falsely confessing to the murder. He later recanted, and exculpatory evidence verified he was not guilty – but not before he served 25 years, three months and eight days behind bars.

Hincapie’s forced confession was not unusual for the New York Police Department (NYPD) at the time. The year before his arrest, the “Central Park Five” were also wrongly convicted of brutally raping jogger Trisha Meili, after they were forced to falsely confess to the crime. Former Pres. Donald ...

Eighth Circuit Greenlights Arkansas Execution Protocol

by Jacob Barrett

Despite finding a “paucity of reliable scientific evidence concerning the effect of large doses of midazolam on humans,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit didn’t halt its use in Arkansas’s three-drug execution protocol. To the contrary, it found the lack evidence of means that midazolam is fine to use. The decision, reached on August 16, 2022, affirmed a district court’s finding that the protocol does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” denying Plaintiffs’ request for a new trial.

Nine Arkansas prisoners on the state’s death row sued then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and the director of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in March 2017. That was a month before Hutchinson had scheduled eight executions over 11 days, racing to beat the expiration date on the state’s supply of midazolam, one of the three drugs in its execution protocol. Four executions were carried out before the drugs expired. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.24.]

Plaintiffs marshalled evidence to support their argument that the drug has a “ceiling effect” – a maximally effective dosage, “after which increasing the dosage does not produce greater sedative effect,” the Court later recalled. That means ...

Second Circuit Upholds Connecticut Prison Porn Ban, Sets Up Circuit Split Over “Vagueness” Test

by Jacob Barrett

On October 3, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue a writ of certiorari to hear an appeal by a group of Connecticut prisoners, who lost a challenge to the prohibition on sexually explicit material by the state Department of Corrections (DOC). See: Reynolds v. Quiros, 143 S. Ct. 199 (2022). That left to stand a decision reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on February 3, 2022, affirming that the prisoners have no First Amendment right to possess such material.

Importantly, that ruling found DOC’s ban on the material passed the four-factor test for reasonableness in restricting First Amendment rights laid out in Turner v. Safely, 482 US 78 (1987). The Second Circuit also said that the prisoners’ primary challenge to the ban – that it is unconstitutionally vague – involves a separate analysis, but one that is applicable only to disciplinary sanctions. In that, the Court acknowledged it was siding with the Third and Ninth Circuits while rejecting different conclusions reached in other circuits.

The case was filed by seven DOC prisoners in federal court for the District of Connecticut: Richard Reynolds, John Vivo, Kenya Brown, Dwight G. ...

Louisiana Sheriff Coughs Up $2.75 Million After Falsely Claiming Detainee Died From Accidental Fall

by Jacob Barrett

On October 18, 2022, officials in Louisiana’s Bossier Parish agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a federal suit filed over the 2017 death of a detainee in the parish jail. Collin James Fletcher, 24, died five days after arrest for minor drug possession charges. The cause was his untreated drug withdrawal in custody, though the Bossier Police Department (BPD) originally claimed – falsely – that Fletcher died from an “accidental fall.”

On September 7, 2017, Fletcher was traveling from New York to Texas to assist in recovery from Hurricane Harvey when he was stopped by BPD officers, who found over 200 Xanax bars on him. Fletcher had struggled for several years with addiction to the powerful sedative. Because withdrawal can cause fatal seizures, the U.S. Department of Health Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends hospitalization. Moreover, SAMHSA guidelines provide that Hydroxyzine should not be used to treat Xanax withdrawal symptoms.

After Fletcher’s arrest, he was booked into the Bossier Maximum-Security Facility, (BMSF) Intake records indicated that Fletcher suffered from psychiatric problems and was taking both Zoloft and Xanax nightly. He informed processing nurse Katrina O. Chandler that he also suffered from a seizure ...

Nevada Pays Over $568,000 for Denying Prisoner Cataract Surgery, Ends “One Good Eye” Policy

by Jacob Barrett

On July 15, 2022, the federal court for the District of Nevada awarded $560,587.50 in fees to attorneys representing a state prisoner who earlier settled his medical neglect claim against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for $7,500. In addition, DOC agreed to amend its policy effectively denying surgery to any future prisoner left with “one good eye.”

Clifford Miller shot himself in the head in 1999, losing sight in both eyes. One eye recovered before he was incarcerated by DOC in 2001. But repeated requests to see an eye surgeon for the other went ignored for nearly two decades before DOC finally relented, and Miller had the surgery in June 2020. Sadly, it was not successful.

By that time he also had a three-year-old suit in the Court filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accusing DOC Dr. Romeo Aranas of deliberate indifference to Miller’s serious medical need, in violation of his Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual

After Miller filed his suit pro se in 2017, he picked up counsel from Reno attorney Terri Keyser-Cooper. With her help, he amended his complaint to include a claim under the Americans with Disabilities ...

Corizon Bankruptcy Threatens $6.4 Million Award to Family of Michigan Prisoner Whose Five-Day Jail Term Turned Into Death Sentence

by Jacob Barrett

On December 5, 2022, a jury in federal court for the Western District of Michigan awarded $6.4 million to the estate of Wade Jones, 40, who was left to die from untreated alcohol withdrawal in his cell at Michigan’s Kent County Correctional Facility (KCCF) by guards and staff with Corizon Health, Inc., the jail’s privately contracted healthcare provider. However, the award has been jeopardized by the pending bankruptcy of Corizon Health’s corporate descendant. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.56.]

Jones was detained and given a misdemeanor citation for shoplifting and retail fraud after stealing several bottles of liquor on April 13, 2018. He appeared for his arraignment 15 days later, and the trial judge directed Jones to speak with probation officer Deven Bonham prior to sentencing. He then consented to a portable breath test (PBT) which registered his Blood Alcohol Content at 0.159 the first time and 0.145 ten minutes later – well in excess of the 0.08 limit. Jones admitted he had “a couple drinks” before the hearing. Bonham informed the court that she was shocked at Jones’ PBT because he seemed functional. The trial judge also noted Jones had a “developed tolerance.” The court subsequently ...

Detainee Allegedly “Eaten Alive” by Vermin in Overcrowded Atlanta Jail

by Jacob Barrett

A detainee found dead in Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail (FCJ) on September 13, 2022, was “eaten alive” by insects, according to an attorney hired by the dead man’s family. Michael Harper said his clients were “horrified” by squalid conditions revealed in photos of the cell where 35-year-old ...

Ninth Circuit: Grievance Policy May Excuse Oregon Prisoner’s Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

by Jacob Barrett

On October 12, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated dismissal of an Oregon prisoner’s civil rights claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies available in the state Department of Corrections (DOC), as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. ...

Nevada Pays Over $568,000 for Denying Prisoner Cataract Surgery, Ends “One Good Eye” Policy

by Jacob Barrett

On July 15, 2022, the federal court for the District of Nevada awarded $560,587.50 in fees to attorneys representing a state prisoner who earlier settled his medical neglect claim against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for $7,500. In addition, DOC agreed to amend its policy effectively ...