By Christopher Zoukis The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a district court’s ruling that held a jail detainee’s excessive force and assault and battery claims could not go forward. Henry M. Davis was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri for driving while intoxicated between 3 and 4 a.m. on September 20, 2009. During the…

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By Prison Legal News The Oklahoma Supreme Court has held that jail officials are not immune from liability for excessive force claims under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (OGTCA). On May 17, 2011, Daniel Bosh was detained at the Cherokee County Detention Center for failure to pay a traffic ticket. Video surveillance showed him…

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By David Reutter The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held on August 26, 2013 that a judge may resolve factual disputes relevant to the exhaustion of administrative remedies without the participation of a jury. It also held the district court had erred in finding a failure to exhaust where a prisoner did not receive a…

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“A minimum of unconsciousness is necessary if one wants to stay inside history. To act is one thing; to know one is acting is another. When lucidity invests the action, insinuates itself into it, action is undone, and with it, prejudice, whose function consists, precisely, in subordinating, in enslaving consciousness to action. The man who…

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By Matt Clarke

The deaths of five prisoners in 18 months might pass without notice in a large jail system, but that many deaths at the 270-bed Portage County jail, located about 30 miles southeast of Cleveland, Ohio, raised red flags.

An investigation by the Cleveland Plain Dealer revealed that Matthew P. DiBease, 29; Amanda Michael, 32; Kenneth R. Mantell, 26; Mark D. Shaver, 32; and Joshua D. McDaniel, 25, all Portage County jail prisoners, died during an 18-month period ending in mid-October 2011. DiBease, Michael and Mantell had all committed suicide by hanging.

Three suicides within 18 months at a 270-bed jail “far exceeds” the average for suicides in a facility that size, according to Lindsay Hayes, executive director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, which conducts research on suicides in custody. Hayes noted that such a high rate should have “set off alarms with the sheriff and jail administration.”

David W. Doak, Sheriff of Portage County since he was first elected in 2008, said that although his department had increased suicide prevention training for jailers, it is difficult to assess who is a suicide risk because prisoners aren’t always honest with medical staff who perform risk evaluations.

“When someone makes up their mind to hurt themselves, that’s a real difficult thing to deal with,” he stated.

Doak defended his reduction in jail staff against accusations that the staffing cuts created an unsafe environment at the facility, noting that budgetary considerations had forced the reductions. The Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association argued against the cuts in 2010, but an arbitrator upheld the sheriff’s right to determine staffing levels at the jail.

Whatever the case, the fact remains that DiBease, who informed jail medical staff that he took medication for a bipolar disorder, hung himself with a sheet on October 29, 2011, less than a day after being booked into the facility for failing to appear at a court hearing.

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By Christopher Zoukis

Prisoners who claim they were assaulted by guards in violation of the Eighth Amendment are not barred from challenging such abuse in court even if they were found guilty of disciplinary charges in connection with the incident, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held. Moreover, it is erroneous for a district court to rely on a guard’s written account of the incident when videotape evidence is readily available.

In overturning a grant of summary judgment in favor of a prison guard, the Court of Appeals ruled that the guard’s alleged act of slamming a handcuffed prisoner into a wall and then to the floor was an event legally distinct from the prisoner’s alleged assault on the guard moments earlier. Prison guards who use excessive force after subduing prisoners are not immunized from court oversight as a result of disciplinary infractions against the prisoner, the Sixth Circuit wrote.

Michigan state prisoner Toran V. Peterson filed suit in federal court, claiming that a prison guard identified only as “Jones” had, without provocation, pushed up on his handcuffed arms to “slam” him into a wall, then lifted him three feet off the ground to slam him to the floor. Peterson was not seriously injured but filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint, alleging cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment among other claims.

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