PREA in the News

Nebraska paid $267K after rape of prison inmate

By GRANT SCHULTE, Associated PressUpdated 1:19 pm, Friday, September 6, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska paid a prisoner more than $267,000 last year after his cellmate raped him and other inmates beat him at the Lincoln Correctional Facility, according to a list of legal payouts made by the state.

The inmate's lawsuit against the state and the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services alleged that prison officials failed to protect the inmate against his attackers, and didn't properly treat him for psychiatric problems that surfaced after the May 2002 assault. A Department of Correctional Services spokeswoman said Friday that the agency has since taken steps to try to prevent similar situations in the future.

The prisoner was kicked and beaten in his cell by four inmates, including his cellmate, who had previously hit him in the face and threatened to beat him up if he didn't move to another cell, according to court papers. A blanket was placed over his head, and one inmate reportedly put him in a chokehold and struck him repeatedly on the side of the face. His cellmate then raped him, and afterward he was told that one or more attackers would return if he reported the incident.

The inmate who was attacked was awarded $250,000 plus interest for the assault, his attorney Joshua Barber said Friday. The decision was upheld by a state appeals court, and Nebraska lawmakers approved the payment with little fanfare last year, as part of a broader payout bill for large legal claims against the state.

The payment was the largest single tort claim approved by the state last year, according to the list of legal payouts that The Associated Press obtained this week. Tort claims generally originate with lawsuits.

A district court judge in Lincoln rejected the allegations that the state failed to meet basic care standards, but concluded that prison officials could have done more to prevent the attack.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who report that they were sexually assaulted. Although a judge ordered the state payment for the attack, no charges were filed against the inmate's assailants.

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith said the inmates weren't charged because investigators couldn't find enough evidence to file a criminal case. Smith said the department has since reviewed its procedures as part of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, including looking at where cameras were placed and the number of supervisors in each prison.

"We take all of these allegations seriously," she said. "We investigate every single claim that's made, and we do as much as we possibly can to ensure those things don't happen."

The inmate also has filed a separate, pending federal lawsuit alleging that he was transferred to another state prison without due process and hasn't received proper treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from the attack. He still lives in "extreme fear" of other inmates and continues to experience flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks and other symptoms from the assault, according to the federal case.

The inmate has been in prison since August 1985, serving 10 years to life for a second-degree murder conviction. He was found guilty of paying a man to kill his grandmother because she had written him out of her will.

The inmate was attacked after several arguments with his cellmate and allegations that he had "snitched" to staff members about another prisoner's plans to escape, according to court documents. The prisoner alleged that his statements to staff members were leaked to the general prison population. He later reported several times that inmates had confronted him and he felt threatened, but was told he was being paranoid, according to the court papers.

The inmate reported additional threats from his cellmate over a two-month period in 2002, but his repeated requests to be separated were denied, according to court papers. The cellmate also stole his property, told him he wanted $400 for "protection," and said he wanted him to move to another cell or else he would beat him up, according to court documents.

The cellmate was placed in temporary solitary confinement for an unrelated matter, and friends of the cellmate told the prisoner he needed to get out of the cell by the time he returned from confinement. The inmate reported the comments to a staff member and said he was concerned an attack was imminent, but no action was taken.

When the prisoner's cellmate returned, he asked why he was still in the cell and struck him in the face, according to court records. He then reportedly told him he was going to bring his friends into the cell. The prisoner immediately reported the attack, but to no avail, records show. Prison staff members later testified that they did not recall the prisoner saying he had been punched or threatened, and that they believed the dispute mostly revolved around the stolen property.

One prison unit manager testified during a bench trial that he offered to move the inmate himself, but the inmate refused.

Prison staff also testified the prisoner initially refused to discuss details of what had happened or identify his attackers. The judge noted that prison staff didn't immediately document the reported conflict before the attack, and failed to photograph the inmate after he was assaulted.

Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt ruled that prison staff should have separated the cellmates.

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