Justin Caldwell Somers, in jail for not paying a jaywalking fine, brutally murdered his sleeping cellmate by stomping him to death on the cement floor, but was found not criminally responsible because he had been acting under the influence of delusions and hallucinations. Now he is suing various personnel of the remand center for not preventing the incident, in part by not heeding the recommendation of a nurse and psychiatrist that he be housed alone: since the murder Somers “has experienced severe mental anguish and mental distress as a result of his role in causing the death of Mr. Stewart, as well as a result of the conditions of his incarceration.” [Edmonton Journal]
Last month 13 guards and 12 others were indicted on charges of letting a gang effectively take over management of the Baltimore City Detention Center; according to the indictment, corrupt guards allegedly smuggled in drugs, cellphones and other contraband and had sex with the gang leader, several becoming pregnant by him. Since then the public and press has been asking what went wrong. A Washington Post editorial suggests one place they might look:
The absurd situation described in the indictment took root at least partly because of a “bill of rights” for corrections officers, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and enacted by the Maryland legislature in 2010 at the behest of the guards union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. This bill of rights grants extraordinary protections to guards, including shielding them from threats of prosecution, transfer, dismissal or even disciplinary action during questioning for suspected wrongdoing.
While Gov. O’Malley has sought to minimize the relevance of the 2010 law, the Post notes that FBI recordings suggest that a guard who was deemed “dirty” was transferred to another facility, rather than fired — transfers-instead-of-firing being a less than optimal way of dealing with public employee corruption, but one typical of systems with strong tenure entrenchment. AFSCME, which boasted at the time of its “relentless lobbying” on behalf of the law, is now doing damage control. More: “those protections left officers at the jail without fear of sanctions for allegedly smuggling contraband or having relationships with inmates, the FBI said in an affidavit.” [Baltimore Sun] Union-allied lawmakers defend the measure [AP]
“Nearly 18 years after a man was convicted of murder, he filed a lawsuit against the murdered victim’s family.” [KING 5; Tacoma, Wash.] Larry Shandola alleged that Paula Henry, widow of the murder victim, had said defamatory things about him, impeding a prison transfer to his native Canada. A judge in the state of Washington has now dismissed the suit. [National Post]
An inmate filing pro se gets certiorari, then follows through with a unanimous nine-Justice SCOTUS win, Thomas, J., correcting the Third Circuit. Credit Justice Alito? [Max Kennerly]
“[Keith Allen] Brown and four other inmates at Idaho’s Kuna facility are suing major beer companies, blaming their crimes on alcoholism and claiming that the companies are responsible because they don’t warn consumers that their products are addictive.” The laudatory Nicholas Kristof column practically writes itself, though one should note that the inmates “do not have attorneys and drafted the lawsuit themselves.” [Idaho Statesman]
How a seemingly unlikely assortment of libertarians, religious conservatives and small-government advocates have been helping to turn around the debate on incarceration. [David Dagan and Steven Teles, Washington Monthly]
Another milestone in chutzpah, this time from the perpetrator of last year’s politically motivated atrocity in Norway. “Perhaps they have moisturizer in Hell, sir, although one thinks it unlikely.” [Lowering the Bar]
“A group of Westchester County Jail inmates will have to fight their own legal battle for access to dental floss, a federal judge has ruled. …the 11 Westchester inmates… sued the county Sept. 10 for $500 million because they were denied access to dental floss.” [Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, White Plains Journal-News]
“The Cook County Board on Tuesday agreed to pay more than $1 million in taxpayer money to settle a federal lawsuit brought by female County Jail inmates who said their civil rights were violated during repeated weekend lockdowns at the massive detention facility. The bulk of the settlement — $850,000 — will go to attorneys who represented the four inmates in the nine-year court case. Two inmates won federal judgments totaling $143,000, and the county opted to pay two others $5,000 to end the suit. … In addition to the $1 million settlement, the county spent at least $732,144 over the years to pay an outside firm to defend it against the suit, according to county records.” The plaintiffs had failed in a bid for class action status. [Chicago Tribune]
Washington: “Lawyers on Monday spent more than two hours arguing over whether a woman charged with aggravated murder should have access to coffee, tea, Cocoa Puffs and candy bars while she’s locked up in the Snohomish County Jail.” [Diana Hefley, "Murder suspect wants Cocoa Puffs in jail," Everett Herald]
Watch out for sentencing spin, warns Scott Greenfield.