Civil Rights Case Against Ex-Warden Revived

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A Confederate flag-toting ex-warden of a New York federal prison cannot dodge a lawsuit from a Latino inmate tossed into long-term solitary confinement in 1999, the Second Circuit ruled Thursday.
     Though he worked at a prison far north of the Mason-Dixon Line, warden Dennis Hasty once had the stars-and-bars hanging in his office at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. before his retirement in 2002, the appellate court said.
     The Bureau of Prisons ordered Hasty to remove the symbol of the slave-holding South, and the warden has not been employed at the prison for more than a decade.
     But the rebel flag-hanging incident could continue to haunt him in the civil rights case of Esteban Gonzalez, a man whom Hasty allegedly ordered into the prison’s so-called Special Housing Unit for more than two years for stabbing another inmate.
     Gonzalez suspected that Hasty’s racist “personal vendetta” against him was the real reason for his long-term isolation.
     In a phone interview, Gonzalez’s attorney Ameer Benno said that his client learned about Hasty’s flag from a black prison guard who filed a grievance against the warden.
     The lawyer added that Hasty’s totem especially stood out in the MDC, where the workforce was predominantly black.
     Hasty had a reputation for giving “more lenient treatment, if not overt favoritism, toward inmates who were white supremacists,” including members of the Aryan Brotherhood, Benno said.
     Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment.
     Gonzalez sued for his treatment a decade ago in a lawsuit against Hasty and four other staffers.
     One of them, former MDC Capt. Salvatore LoPresti, would later be convicted of covering up the savage beating of another inmate.
     In that case, prosecutors said that LoPresti made a noose out of the brutalized inmate’s bedsheet to make an assault on him by multiple officers look like a suicide. The attack left a pool of the victim’s blood and clumps of his dreadlocks on the floor of the cell, prosecutors said.
     Gonzalez’s lawsuit, on the other hand, has been slow to launch in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan, who dismissed the case two years ago on the grounds that the statute of limitations already expired.
     On Thursday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Second Circuit found that Gonzalez may have a viable case that he endured cruel and unusual punishment for the “continuing violations” of the Eighth Amendment during his stint in the SHU.
     Circuit Judge Robert Sack did not reach the merits of Gonzalez’s accusations in his 29-page ruling for the panel.
     This is not the only civil rights lawsuit revived by the Second Circuit accusing Hasty of racially motivated abuses during his tenure at MDC.
     In June, the court revived a landmark class action lawsuit by Muslims locked up at his prison on false suspicions of terrorism in the wake of post-9/11 “hysteria.”
     Scathing inspector general reports found that prison staff at MDC slammed detainees against the wall, kept them in lockdown 23 hours a day, and placed them in solitary confinement while Hasty served there as warden. The former inmates in that case say that guards referred to them as “camels,” “fucking Muslims,” and “Arabic assholes.”
     Hasty was a warden for part of this period, and he was made to face civil rights claims along with former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and others.
     Gonzalez, who is now 51, was released from prison three years ago and spends most of his time taking care of his disabled mother, his lawyer says.
     “I’m confident that my client will get justice in the end,” Benno added.
     The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment.

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