Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Northern California Judge rules for guards in prisoner abuse complaint

Pelican State Bay Prison image from the prison's website.
Northern District of California Judge Susan Illston ruled in favor of a group of guards sued by prisoner Eduardo Reyes for alleged abuse that occurred on June 4, 2006.

According to Reyes, on that day, guards put the 'B' yard in Pelican State Bay Prison on lockdown because dozens of inmates had put sheets up over their cell doors, frustrating guards who were trying to make prisoner head counts at 4:15pm and 8:45pm. At first guards were able to take the sheets down by pulling them through the food slot, when inmates tried to put the sheets back up the guards used pepper spray and an "OC grenade" to prevent them from doing this.

After the ruckus, the inmates were placed in a yard outside in only their boxers in "frigid temperatures" for sixteen hours while prison staff tried to clean the cells. Upon being returned to their cells, there were no sheets or hygiene items and there was still residual pepper spray for five days.

Reyes claimed this violated his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment as applied to PSBP by the 14th Amendment's Due Process clause. First, he claimed that the guards used excessive force in using the pepper spray and grenade. Judge Illston disagreed stating that to arise to a constitutional violation the defendants must apply force "maliciously and sadistically for the purpose of causing harm...." Judge Illston found that the force was reasonable to prevent a situation where guards could not see what was happening and possibly leaving them open to ambush.

The detention in the yard required a showing that the deprivation of food, shelter and toilet was "sufficiently serious." Judge Illston found that it wasn't. While the length of deprivation of necessities is a balancing test considering the nature of the need and the period of its absence, the Ninth Circuit has not found a deprivation of food, shelter and hygiene less than four days to be a constitutional violation. See Hearns v. Terhune (2005).

Judge Illston also denied the contaminated cell claim stating that the removal of the materials from the cell, represents the guards best efforts to avoid further injury while allowing inmates to return to the relative comfort of their cells as soon as possible.

All of Mr. Reyes claims have been denied and the case is over.

The case is Reyes v. Kirkland, No. C 08-0813 and the court's opinion is below the jump.

Here is the order.
Reyes v. Krikland MSJ Order

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