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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

A Cell to Himself, Or Else

(CN) - A mentally ill prisoner who has threatened violence if assigned a cellmate may have a civil rights case, a federal judge ruled.

Derek Sincere Black Wolf Cryer is an inmate at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum security prison in Massachusetts, where he is serving a life sentence without parole.

He is currently in a single cell and wishes to remain in his own cell, but the prison superintendent Thomas Dickhaut wants to move him to a double-bunk cell. Cryer also refuses to be transferred to a medium-security prison for fear he would be forced to have a cellmate.

Cryer has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, dysthymic disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, proptosis OD abnormal disorder, adjustment disorder, cognitive disorders and several personality disorders.

In his complaint, Cryer said that he does not trust other inmates and believes they will kill him. He also threatened to harm to any inmate who is placed in his cell. A psychiatrist allegedly warned that double-bunking Cryer could lead to homicidal ideation and a "mental health watch."

The prison put Cryer in disciplinary segregation for refusing a cellmate, and Cryer said this punishment will continue as long as he refuses a cellmate.

Though the prison has declined to double-bunk other inmates with mental illnesses, it denied Cryer's request because it said his mental disorders do not qualify, according to the April 2011 complaint.

Cryer says Dickhaut and Massachusetts Correction Department Commissioner Luis Spencer are violating his Eighth and 14th Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Denise Casper refused to dismiss the Eighth Amendment claims, finding that "Cryer sufficiently alleges that forcing him to double bunk poses a substantial risk of serious harm."

"Given the allegations in the complaint that Cryer has the alleged mental disorders that may compromise his mental health and safety (as well as the safety of a cell mate) in a double-bunked cell, the court finds that Cryer has alleged a sufficiently serious deprivation," the judge said.

"The First Circuit has noted that although double bunking is not a per se constitutional violation, 'in rare cases [the policy of double-bunking] might amount to an unlawful practice when combined with other adverse conditions,'" she added (brackets in original).

Cryer cannot get an injunction at this stage. "Here, based on their expertise and judgment in these matters including evaluations and input from mental health professionals, the defendants have determined that Cryer's mental health condition does not require single cell status and, as discussed above, it is not clear that Cryer has a likelihood of success on his remaining constitutional claims," Casper wrote. "The court cannot therefore find, at this stage, that Cryer has shown that granting the relief requested would not adversely affect the public interest in having secure and orderly prisons."

Court records show that Cryer has filed several civil rights cases against the prison in the past. Cryer, a member of a Native American spiritual group, has also sued to smoke "ceremonial tobacco" for religious purposes.

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