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7th Circuit reverses ruling in favor of prison guard

April 26, 2016

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a District Court decision that dismissed a prisoner’s First Amendment claims and granted immunity to the guard mentioned in his Eighth Amendment claims.

Brian Herron is serving sentences for bank robbery and other crimes as a former gang member. Before he was transported to the federal prison in Terre Haute, he was attacked by prisoners at another prison and left permanently disabled because they mistakenly thought he was a pedophile. Herron’s record was corrected to remove the pedophile designation after the attack.  

Herron was placed in a segregation cell in Terre Haute after prisoners there threatened him to attack him. Herron was attacked by his cellmate in the segregation unit and he was afraid his new cellmate would attack him. The guard in charge of him, Douglas Meyer, got upset that he had to keep changing out cellmates and again transferred Herron out of his jurisdiction. This time, Meyer put Herron into a cell that was not wheelchair accessible. Herron fell trying to go to the bathroom in that cell and suffered multiple injuries.  

Herron filed claims that his First and Eighth Amendment rights were violated and said the guard who transferred him was punishing him for filing too many grievances and objecting to cellmates.

Judge Frank Easterbrook said the facts in the case suggest the guard tried to get back at Herron another way, knowing he couldn’t hit him, and moved him to a cell where he would very likely get injured. Because of that, the guard would not be eligible for qualified immunity, as the District Court ruled.

Meyer claimed that version of events did not happen, but on motion for summary judgment the court must view things for Herron. If the court does that, then Herron is entitled to damages.

Herron also alleged Meyer violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Easterbrook wrote that a price had been attached to speech if Meyer set out to punish Herron for his grievances, but whether or not the penalty was attached to protected speech was a little more difficult to ascertain. However, a new trial should be held either way.

The case is Brian Herron v. Douglas Meyer, 15-1659.

 

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