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Articles by Matthew Clarke

$142,500 Settlement After Pennsylvania Jail Guard Allegedly Knocked Out Detainee and Broke Her Jaw

by Matthew Clarke

On September 30, 2022, a lawsuit was dismissed against Pennsylvania’s Dauphin County, after a former pretrial detainee at the county lockup reached a $142,500 settlement on claims that a jail guard knocked her unconscious and smashed her jaw while she was handcuffed.

Barbara Barngetuny, then 26, was detained at the Dauphin County Prison on November 10, 2017, when jail guard Joshua Marshall allegedly slammed her to the floor, breaking her jaw and two teeth and cutting her chin. When she then passed out – for 10 minutes – a second, unidentified guard pepper sprayed her twice as she lay unmoving on the floor, she said.

Afterward, Barngetuny said she was disciplined for being combative with placement in solitary confinement. There she was denied visits from her mother. She was also allegedly ridiculed by guards, who laughed at her when she cried. One said she cried worse than his two-year-old niece, Barngetuny recalled.

Her broken jaw required surgery, and her two broken teeth required repair. She also had to heal the cuts on her chin. In addition to those injuries, she claimed to suffer migraine headaches, PTSD, severe emotional distress and insomnia as a result of the assault. ...

Seventh Circuit Revives Illinois Prisoner’s Claim Over Prison Work Injury

by Matthew Clarke

On December 15, 2022, the U.S. Courtof Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a district court erred when it dismissed an Illinois prisoner’s lawsuit for misjoinder of defendants and claims. Finding the claims and defendants were in fact properly joined, the Court reinstated the prisoner’s complaint.

After he was admitted to the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in September 2017,  Jermari C. Dorsey was injured on his prison job at Robinson Correctional Center, while emptying an industrial washing machine that was not attached to a drain. A supervising guard named Julius refused him permission to seek medical attention. When his pain worsened the next day, he submitted a request for medical care and waited.

When finally admitted to the healthcare unit six days later, his severe leg pain was duly noted by an unnamed “Doe” Nurse with the state prison system’s privately contracted healthcare provider, Wexford Health Sources. But Doe also recorded her belief that Dorsey was exaggerating his symptoms. Why? She allegedly observed him approach the waiting room walking normally, only to begin limping and moaning once he thought himself under observation. Dorsey later called that entry false, alleging also that it negatively influenced his ...

Minnesota Supreme Court: Prisoner Abused with Overtight Handcuffs Need Only Show Deliberate Indifference, Not Malicious Intent

by Matthew Clark

On December 14, 2022, the Minnesota Supreme Court took up a state prisoner’s claim that he was left with permanent nerve damage from restraints guards misused during a routine medical transport. The Court held that the proper standard to apply is whether the allegations show deliberate indifference, not intent to cause harm.

Christopher Welters was being transported from the Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF) at Stillwater to MCF Oak Park Heights for scheduled outpatient medical clinic appointments on July 31, 2017. Guards Cornelius Emily and Ernest Rhoney put him in full restraints for the trip, per policy of the state Department of Corrections (DOC). But Welters noticed right away that his handcuffs were too tight.

“Oh, it’s only a 15-minute drive,” Rhoney allegedly told him, “it’ll be all right.”

But it wasn’t “all right.” In fact, as Welters entered the transport van, he felt the restraints “click” even tighter – meaning the device was not double-locked, in violation of DOC policy. When he complained, Rhoney pushed on the handcuff to check, and it clicked tighter again. He agreed the device was not double-locked. But he did nothing to fix the problem.

By the time he arrived at the ...

Four Michigan Jail Guards Guilty in Detainee Death, Family Paid $2.4 Million

by Matt Clarke

Just weeks before their trial was to begin on charges of involuntary manslaughter in a detainee’s death, four guards at Michigan’s Muskegon County Jail pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of Willful Neglect of Duty on
April 20, 2023.

That means Crystal Grove, Jamal Lane, Jeffery Patterson and David Vanderlaan will not face jail time; instead each was immediately fined $1,000 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service. All four are still employed at the lockup. A nurse formerly employed by Wellpath, the jail’s privately contracted healthcare provider, escaped charges earlier in the case.

Their victim, Paul Bulthouse, 39, died on April 4, 2019, after suffering what surveillance video showed to be 18 seizures in just over four hours. The first five seizures were fairly evenly spaced over two hours, while the last 13 came at intervals of about 15 minutes. All the while Bulthouse lay naked and unconscious on the bunk in his cell.

He had been arrested for probation violation on March 22, 2019, and taken to the jail. There he was placed on suicide watch, which requires guards to check on him every 15 minutes. But even though the guards could observe Bulthouse ...

Imprisoned Former Head of New York City Jails Guards’ Union Granted Release

by Matt Clarke

On February 23, 2023, a federal judge who had earlier refused to reduce the sentence of the former head of the New York City jail guards’ union convicted in a costly bribery scheme, instead granted compassionate release to Norman Seabrook, 63.

The former president of the city’s powerful Correctional Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), Seabrook had by then served 21 months of his 58-month sentence. He remains subject to a three-year term of supervised release set in his original sentence.

Based largely on the testimony of real estate developer Jona Rechnitz, who served as bagman to deliver a $60,000 bribe, Seabrook was sentenced in February 2019 for taking the payoff to invest $20 million of COBA funds in a risky hedge fund that went bankrupt, resulting in a loss of $19 million from jail guards’ retirement accounts. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.46.]

In April 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York noted that Seabrook, who is Black, ended up with a harsher sentence than his White co-conspirator; defunct Platinum Partners co-founder Murray Huberfeld initially received a 30-month sentence for paying the bribe, but his sentence was reduced to 13 months, after the ...

Eighth Circuit Lets Public Defender Withdraw from BOP Prisoner’s “Frivolous” Appeal

by Matt Clarke

On July 11, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted a motion to withdraw from an attorney appointed to represent a federal prisoner in Missouri appealing his civil commitment. Though allowing the appeal was “frivolous,” the Court denied a companion motion to keep the withdrawal under seal, calling that request overbroad. The case is instructive for prisoners with reluctant appointed counsel, demonstrating the current limits of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling governing their withdrawal in Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967).

The government petitioned to determine whether federal prisoner David Garner’s present mental condition justified involuntary commitment for psychiatric treatment, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4245(a). “After a hearing,” the Court recalled, “the district court ordered Garner committed to the custody of the Attorney General for treatment of a mental disease or defect at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri.”

Garner filed a notice of appeal pro se, and the Eighth Circuit appointed counsel from the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Western District of Missouri. But that attorney said he was unable to find a non-frivolous issue for appeal, leaving him “ethically obligated to withdraw.” However, he moved ...

Fifth Circuit Reinstates Lawsuit Over Texas Detainee’s Asphyxiation by Jail Guards

by Matt Clarke

On July 13, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed dismissal of a lawsuit filed over the death of a Texas detainee during an altercation with jail guards.

Kelli Leanne Page, 46, was awaiting trial at the Coryell County Jail for “several months” ...

Fifth Circuit Reinstates Claim That LaSalle Guards Fatally Beat Louisiana Pre-Trial Detainee

by Matt Clarke

On July 22, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reinstated claims previously dismissed in a lawsuit filed over a detainee’s fatal beating at a prison privately operated by LaSalle Management Co. for the city of Monroe, Louisiana.

Monroe ceased leasing beds from LaSalle ...

Fifth Circuit Again Revives Muslim Texas Prisoner’s Suit Over Halal Meals Denied During Hurricane Evacuation

by Matt Clarke

On July 22, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a district court erred when it tossed a Muslim prisoner’s lawsuit over denial of Kosher meals during a hurricane evacuation from his Texas prison. It was the Court’s second review in the ...

Fifth Circuit Upholds Qualified Immunity for Texas Prison Guard Who Beat Prisoner’s Arm With Baton Until It Broke

by Matt Clarke

On August 31, 2022, the U.S. Court ofAppeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a district court’s grant of qualified immunity (QI) to a Texas prison guard who used his baton to beat and break the arm of a prisoner protruding from the bottom of a dogpile of ...