Judge Won’t Block Guard’s Claim Against Texas Prisons

Cameron Langford

HOUSTON (CN) — A federal judge found that a former Texas prison guard who says his boss simply watched as a prisoner viciously beat him, breaking two bones and dislocating his spine, has “alleged a plausible retaliation claim.”

Larry Jones says he told his bosses at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in July 2015 that he planned to help a co-worker and fellow African-American with his discrimination lawsuit against the agency, and possibly join in the petition.

Less than three weeks later, Jones says, he got an unusual request from his boss Roderick Smith as they watched inmates cut weeds with hand tools along a fence.

The only defendants are the TDCJ and its former executive director Brad Livingston. Though Livingston retired in August, the alleged retaliation occurred during his tenure.

“Jones was ordered to relinquish his firearm, hand over the reins of his horse, get off of his horse, and handcuff a noncompliant offender and to do so by himself without any backup, even though the dispute had originated from the offender toward Jones,” the July 27 lawsuit states.

Jones says the order “violated TDCJ policy which calls for de-escalation,” and that Smith could have ordered another guard to help him handcuff the inmate.

Instead, Jones says, Smith sat back and watched as the prisoner punched him in the face and kept beating him.

“The offender continued attacking Jones so violently that Jones was in fear for his life and suffered major and eventually debilitating injuries. The offender did not stop attacking Jones until Jones was able to subdue the offender through physical force,” the complaint states.

Jones says Smith waited until after the fight was over to help him subdue the prisoner.

Jones’ attorney told Courthouse News his client suffered a broken shoulder, cracked kneecap, torn knee ligament and displaced discs in his back and neck in the fight. He had reconstructive surgery on his shoulder and back and underwent psychological treatment.

“Jones has been determined to be completely disabled due to the injuries. Jones no longer works at TDCJ since he is unable to meet the duties of the job,” attorney Robert Notzon said in an email.

Jones sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars an employer from retaliating against a worker because they have “testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation” into discrimination.

The TDCJ and Livingston claimed in a motion for dismissal that Jones has not proved a “causal connection” between his telling the agency he planned to help a co-worker with the discrimination claim and Smith’s putting him in a dangerous situation with an inmate.

It is “manifestly implausible” that Smith secretly ordered the inmate to assault Jones within view of armed guards who were authorized to shoot and kill him, simply because Smith was afraid Jones was going to sue the TDCJ, according to the dismissal motion.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy declined to dismiss the claim, saying she is bound to take Jones’ allegations as true in this early stage of the case.

“These allegations of Jones do not support the existence of a conspiracy between Jones’ supervisor (Roderick Smith) and the offender who assaulted Jones, but they do support a conclusion that Smith was indifferent to the danger he was putting Jones in,” the Dec. 2 order states. (Parentheses in original.)

A Texas Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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