Former Supermax prisoner wins lawsuit

Isolation cell shackles violated rights, jury says

October 05, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

A federal jury found yesterday that a group of guards violated the civil rights of a former inmate at Maryland's Supermax prison when they placed him in special leg and hand irons in the prison's now-closed "pink room" isolation cell for disruptive prisoners.

Jurors awarded Quentin L. Jackson $9,501 in compensatory and punitive damages from five correctional officers.

After a four-day trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the jury found that the guards acted improperly when they placed Jackson in shackles in the isolation cell. The panel then issued a statement deploring conditions in the isolation cell as "repugnant to the conscience of mankind."

The civil lawsuit stemmed from an incident in January 1994 in which Jackson was accused of inciting a disturbance among inmates on his cellblock by banging on his cell door during a strip search, according to court papers. He was tear-gassed 12 times and struck in the head as he was being pulled from his cell by a team of guards and put in the "pink room" for about 48 hours.

While finding that the guards did not use excessive force taking Jackson from his cell, the jury statement said the trial revealed a "gratuitous battery" -- the blow to the head -- by one guard.

Jackson, 42, was being held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, known as Supermax, in East Baltimore. The prison is for the state's worst criminal offenders and for inmates who have caused disciplinary problems at other correctional facilities.

Jackson, who lives in a halfway house in Frederick, said he had expected to be awarded more money. But he said he was content with the decision.

"It's not so much about the money," he said. "It's about what is right and what is wrong."

An attorney for the Maryland Division of Correction said the state will appeal the verdict.

Assistant Attorney General Glenn W. Bell said the actions of the guards were not unconstitutional as a matter of law and that the guards were not responsible for damages because they were following policy when placing Jackson in the isolation cell.

Bell said Jackson's case was the last of at least 10 suits against the state in the past few years involving the cell, which was painted pink and had a hole in the floor for a toilet. It was closed in 1995 amid a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The other cases resulted in verdicts or summary judgments in favor of the defendants, Bell said.

Pub Date: 10/05/99

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