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Judge denies summary judgment for jailers accused of excessive force

October 14, 2016

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute decision, denied a motion for summary judgment brought by four Terre Haute jail officers who have been accused of using excessive force against a former inmate.

In an order handed down Thursday in Robert Taylor v. Officer Gilbert, et al, 2:15-cv-0348, district Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson wrote that officers Gilbert, Griffen, Lutz and Tarrh were incorrect in their argument that they should be granted summary judgment because the former inmate who accused them of assault, Robert Taylor, had not exhausted all of the available administrative remedies. Instead, Magnus-Stinson wrote that the administrative remedy process was not made available to Taylor, a fact that was the fault of the four officers themselves, not Taylor.

The situation began on November 12, 2014, when Taylor, who was formerly incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, said the four officers were going to place another inmate who had severe mental health problems in his cell. Taylor asked the officers not to give him that cellmate, which allegedly prompted the officers to open his cell door and assault him, resulting in back, neck, jaw, wrist and arm injuries.

When such a situation occurs, inmates can pursue a resolution through the Bureau of Prisons’ Administrative Remedy Program. In that program, inmates must first file an informal remedy request at the institutional level, which, in Taylor’s case, would have been the Terre Haute penitentiary. If the inmate isn’t satisfied with the response to the informal appeal, they can then file another institutional appeal with the warden, then with the regional director and finally with the general counsel/central office. Once a response has been received from the general counsel/central office, inmates have officially exhausted their administrative remedies.

However, inmates can also choose to skip the filings at the institutional level if they believe their case is sensitive and that their well-being would be in danger if the institution knew of the remedy request. That’s the approach Taylor chose to take in his situation, opting to file a request for an administrative remedy directly to the regional director in the interest of his own safety.

However, the regional director rejected Taylor’s request, saying that his situation was not sensitive. He then appealed to the general counsel/central office, which also rejected the request, partially on the basis that he needed to file an institutional request with the warden first.

However, Magnus-Stinson noted in her Thursday order that Taylor had tried to file a request with the warden, but was prevented from doing so by Officer Lutz. When Lutz learned of the request, he allegedly came to Taylor’s door and ripped up the paperwork in his face. Lutz also allegedly used a racial slur, telling Taylor, “N-----, you like to write. I’ll kill your ass back here if you try filing on me again old n-----.”

Threats of violence are generally accepted to mean that an administrative remedy process has been rendered unavailable to an inmate, Magnus-Stinson wrote. Thus, the four jailers did not prove that Taylor did not exhaust his administrative remedies because their actions denied him access to the administrative process.

Further, Magnus-Stinson noted that the alleged violence and threats of violence against Taylor should have been enough for his remedy request to be considered sensitive.

Magnus-Stinson’s order allows the case to proceed and requires that Taylor submit his settlement demands by Dec. 16 if he intends to reach a resolution outside of court.
 

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