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Articles by Lonnie Burton

Prisoner's Punishment for Attempting to Mail Out Threat-Laden "Poems" Upheld by Minnesota Court of Appeals

In a decision dated January 11, 2016, the Minnesota Court of Appeals denied a petition filed by a state prisoner who alleged his First Amendment rights were violated when prison officials found him guilty and sanctioned him with loss of good time for violating rules regarding sending threatening mail. The court rejected the prisoner's claim that his poems, addressed to various media outlets, were purely fictional.

James David McBroom filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in county district court challenging four prison disciplinary hearings which found him guilty of threatening others, including his crime victim and prison mailroom staff. The threats were contained in "poems" McBroom had addressed to several news organizations.

According to prison authorities at the Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility in Minnesota, McBroom's poems contained threats of physical and sexual violence against a female "troll." Because McBroom referred in court documents to his crime victim as a "troll," and other references in the poem--DNA evidence and lie detector tests--that also mirrored his criminal proceeding, McBroom was found guilty of making threats to his victim and sanctioned with 15 days loss of good time.

Other "poems" McBroom was punished for included threats of ...

Wyoming Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal of Prisoner Lawsuit Challenging New Mandatory Deductions and Good Time Laws

On October 18, 2016, a unanimous Wyoming Supreme Court approved the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a state prisoner challenging the constitutionality of several Wyoming statutes relating to mandatory deductions from prisoner earnings and the denial of good time -- as those laws apply to those serving life sentences. The prisoner had argued that he should be exempt from the deductions due to his life sentences and, if not, he should conversely receive good time. The court rejected both claims.

Chester Loyde Bird received two "life sentences according to law" in the mid-1990s to run concurrently. In 2010, the Wyoming legislature amended Wyo. Stat. Ann. Sect. 7-16-205(a)(i), as it relates to requiring a portion of a prisoner's earnings to be deducted and placed in to a savings account, to be distributed upon the prisoner's release. Bird filed suit to challenge the statute's application to him, as, absent commutation of his sentence, he will not be released and thus should be exempt from the deductions.

The state's high court, however, disagreed and upheld the ruling of the district court dismissing this claim. By the law's plain language, only those serving a sentence of death ...

Sixth Circuit Upholds Denial of Summary Judgment to Prison Officials in Michigan Failure-to-Protect Lawsuit

On April 15, 2016, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit let stand a federal district court ruling which denied summary judgment to Wayne County, Michigan, jail officials in a lawsuit alleging that a former prisoner was beaten to death by another prisoner and that jail officials knew or should have known of the killer's violent propensities. The appellate court also dismissed Wayne County's interlocutory appeal on the basis of qualified immunity for lack of jurisdiction.

Jeffrey Horvath was arrested on September 23, 2011, for a nonviolent misdemeanor and booked into the Wayne County jail. After the toilet in his cell malfunctioned, Horvath was moved to another cell where another prisoner named Gillespie was later placed. Two days later, according to the complaint filed by the personal representative of Horvath's estate, the following occurred:

Gillespie began experiencing auditory hallucinations, and he said that the voices were "having sex, yelling at [him], [and] trying to make deals with [him]," which caused him to become aroused. Gillespie then began assaulting Horvath "by punching him in the head and face several times, delivering blows to the face with his foot and knee, stabbing ...

$5,000 to Transgender Prisoner in Maryland Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

By Lonnie Burton

On August 17, 2015, an administrative law judge in Maryland ruled that state prison officials were guilty of sexually harassing and mistreating a transgender prisoner and awarded her $5,000 in damages. The ruling was the first of its kind for a transgender prisoner alleging harassment at the hands of prison staff.

Sandy Brown is a transgender prisoner incarcerated the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland. Brown, who is biologically male but identifies as female, was serving a five-year sentence for assault when she was placed in involuntary administrative segregation in 2014 after a mental health screening. According to Brown's complaint, prison guards mocked her as she showered and urged her to commit suicide.

"They didn't see me for the human being I am," Brown said in a statement to the press. They treated me like a circus act. They gawked, pointed, made fun of me and tried to break my spirit."

Brown also said prison staff denied her educational programs, recreational activities, and phone time, and constantly referred to her as an "it."

Brown sued Patuxent officials under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a federal statute which, among other things, requires prison officials to ...

$4,000 to Subject of Esquire article "The Tunnel" in Retaliation Lawsuit against Michigan Prison Officials

$5,000 to Conn. Prisoner in Retaliation Lawsuit

by Lonnie Burton

On April 24, 2014, a Connecticut state prisoner and the Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to settle a claim brought by the prisoner which alleged that he was terminated from his prison job after he filed a grievance against a guard who made a racially-insensitive comment to him. Without admitting liability or wrongdoing, the state agreed to pay the prisoner $5,000 free of deductions, and give him a job.

According to court documents filed in connection with the lawsuit lodged in federal court, Michael Braham was a student in the Small Engine Repair Class at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Just prior to graduating that class in August 2007, Brahm filed a grievance against a guard who Brahm said made a racial slur toward him. Braham was then hired as a teacher's aide in the same class just three weeks later. But his employment was terminated after working for only one week. The deputy warden said Brahm wasn't "eligible" for the job due to past infractions. The same deputy warden had conferred with the grievance coordinator about Brahm's grievance.

Braham then filed several internal complaints that he was being retaliated against for filing the grievance ...

$77,980 in attorney's fees. $57,000 verdict in Excessive Force against New York Police

by Lonnie Burton

On March 29, 2017, United States District Judge George B. Daniels, sitting in the Southern District of New York, adopted in part a magistrate's report and recommendation which granted attorney's fees and costs to a lawyer who had won a jury verdict in a prisoner's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights lawsuit. Judge Daniels, however, refused to adopt the portion of the R & R limiting the attorney's fee award to 150% of the verdict as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), because the lawsuit did not arise from claims arising out of the prisoner's current confinement.

Samuel L. Sutton sued the city of Yonkers, New York, the Yonkers police department, the county of Westchester, and two arresting officers for excessive force for a June 2, 2010 arrest which resulted in a week in jail. Sutton filed the suit while he was locked up for a subsequent, unrelated offense in February 2013. On June 9, 2016, a jury returned a verdict in his favor. The jury found for Sutton on his false arrest claim only, while rejecting his claims that he was arrested without probable cause, improperly strip-searched ...

Eighth Circuit Refuses to Halt Arkansas Execution of Prisoner Who Claimed Lethal Injection Will Cause Him Extreme Pain

by Lonnie Burton

In April 2017, the state of Arkansas decided to fast track the execution of eight prisoners before its supply of lethal injection drugs became unavailable. Soon after Governor Asa Hutchinson signed execution orders that would schedule what was called assembly line executions for one week in April, 2017, the eight death row prisoners filed suit in federal court challenging the lethal injection protocol and seeking to stay the executions.

On April 15, 2017, an Arkansas federal district court agreed with the prisoners, staying the executions on the ground that the protocol will result in cruel and unusual punishment because one of the drugs -­midazolam -- cannot render the prisoners insensate to pain caused by the other two drugs in the protocol. Two days later, however, the Eighth Circuit vacated the order and lifted the stays. See McGehee v. Hutchinson, No. 17-1804 (8th Cir. Apr. 17, 2017) (en banc) (per curiam). And the executions began.

Shortly thereafter, Jack Harold Jones, jr, filed another challenge to his scheduled execution. Jones, who had been on Arkansas' death row for 21 years for the 1995 rape and murder of Mary Phillips and the attempted murder of her 11-year--old daughter Lacy, said his ...

Eighth Circuit Denies Stay of Execution to Arkansas Prisoner Who Claimed His Obesity Created Risk of Severe Pain

by Lonnie Burton

On April 24, 2017, the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a series of rulings paving the way for the state of Arkansas to continue killing its prisoners via lethal injection at an alarming rate before the drugs used in lethal injections become unavailable. In this case, the Court denied a prisoner's claim he was too fat to be executed absent severe pain or serious harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

In April 2015, Marcel Wayne Williams joined other Arkansas prisoners challenging the method of execution -- lethal injection -- Arkansas uses to execute prisoners sentenced to death. Six days after the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari to the prisoners, on February 27, 2017, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed an order ;cheduling the executions of Williams and seven other prisoners for one week in April 2017. The hurried nature of the executions was due to the fact that one of the drugs the state planned to use in the lethal injection protocol was about to become unavailable.

Williams and the other prisoners then filed another lawsuit, again alleging the method of execution violated their rights under the ...

California Prisoner's Claim of Untreated Tooth Pain Survives Summary Judgment; All Other Claims, and Request for Expert, Denied by Federal Judge

by Lonnie Burton

On September 16, 2014, United States District Judge William Alsup, sitting in the Northern District of California, issued an order granting in part and denying in part a motion for summary judgment filed by prison officials in a case where a prisoner had sued for inadequate dental care. The case was immediately referred to the Pro Se Prisoner Mediation Program for further proceedings.

The case concerns Cesar Uribe, who, while incercaerated at the California Training Facility in October 2010, saw a prison dentist, Dr. Luz F. Wares, for a routine dental exam. During that exam Dr. Wares found a wisdom tooth that was growing sideways and was likely to protrude the gums in the future. Uribe reported no pain and no treatment for the tooth was ordered. About a year later, though, Uribe returned to the dentist, this time reporting "slow throbbing" pain. The wisdom tooth was now starting to protrude from the gum. On November 3, 2011, another prison dentist, Dr. Chi Nguyen, classified Uribe's situation as urgent but not emergent. He said he would be seen again in three business days, but prescribed him no medication despite Uribe's complaint's of pain.

It ...


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