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August 20, 2010

Notable Eleventh Circuit ruling on use of force on mentally ill prisoners

The Eleventh Circuit has a long discussion of the use of force against prisoners in Florida in its ruling today in Thomas v. Bryant, No. 09-11658 (11th Cir. Aug. 20, 2010) (available here). Here is how the legthy opinion gets started:

This appeal presents important questions concerning the intersection of the Eighth Amendment and the incarceration of inmates with serious mental illness.  Ten inmates incarcerated at Florida State Prison (“FSP”) brought this § 1983 action against various officers and employees of the Florida Department of Corrections (“DOC”), alleging that the use of chemical agents on inmates with mental illness and other vulnerabilities violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  After the plaintiffs settled their damages claims against the individual correctional officers responsible for administering the chemical agents, the district court held a five-day bench trial on their remaining claims for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the two defendants allegedly responsible for the policy which authorized the use of chemical agents on inmates at FSP: Walter McNeil, Secretary of the DOC, and Randall Bryant, Warden of FSP. 

The district court entered judgment in favor of two of the remaining six plaintiffs, concluding that the repeated sprayings inmates Jeremiah Thomas and Michael McKinney received pursuant to the DOC’s non-spontaneous use-of-force policy violated the Eighth Amendment.  Specifically, the district court concluded that Thomas and McKinney demonstrated that at times in which they were sprayed with chemical agents they were unable to conform their behavior to prison standards due to their mental illnesses such that the DOC’s use of force for purposes of prison discipline amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.  To remedy the violation, the district court permanently enjoined the defendants, in their official capacities, from allowing the non-spontaneous use of chemical agents on Thomas or McKinney without first consulting with the DOC’s trained mental health staff to evaluate their mental health status.  Defendants McNeil and Bryant now appeal, challenging both the district court’s finding of an Eighth Amendment violation and the propriety of its permanent injunction....

Our task is to determine whether the district court erred in concluding that the DOC’s nonspontaneous use-of-force policy, as applied to McKinney, violates the Eighth Amendment and whether its permanent injunction was both necessary to remedy the violation of McKinney’s rights and also properly tailored to the identified harm.  Finding no error in the district court’s thorough conclusions of law and narrowly tailored injunction, we affirm.

August 20, 2010 at 11:53 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Personally I'm for either letting people stew in their overflowed cells or using tranq darts. I really don't understand the prison administration thinking that leads to massive force of a bunch of CO staff rushing into a cell being the best way to subdue a inmate. Even better, of course, would be to make each cell sealable and pump in something that way. Even better if it results in a massive hangover when the inmate wakes up.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 20, 2010 3:37:51 PM

These left extremist, pro-criminal biased judges should be forced to share a cell with the plaintiffs.

These are horrible and biased people (the judges), who have no human feelings, except for the client of the rent seeking lawyer. There has to be a legal remedy for the injustices perpetrated by these cult criminals. For example, all parties injured by these ultra-violent predators and prison bullies should be made whole from the personal assets of the cult criminals on the bench. End the assumption of risk obstacle to prison guards suing these vile self dealing cult criminals. The guards did not sign on to be betrayed by lawyer cult criminals. They know nothing about prison administration, nor about mental illness, nor about extreme predatory behaviors. They know nothing but the rent. Yet, these arrogant little Caesars feel free to pontificate and to make highly dangerous and potentially lethal decisions on behalf of people who do know something about those subjects. If a guard is killed due to their totally irresponsible decisions, the families of the guards have good moral justification to bring street justice to them.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 20, 2010 9:03:36 PM

i kind of agree. i've thought for years that people in this conditon need to be fitted with control units like shock colors than can paralize voluntariy musc's when needed by staff if they get violent.

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 21, 2010 2:05:31 AM

Student

"I really don't understand the prison administration thinking that leads to massive force of a bunch of CO staff rushing into a cell being the best way to subdue a inmate."

I agree.

Posted by: Trixie | Aug 21, 2010 11:21:46 PM

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