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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Deputy Who Ignored Jail Rape Won’t Get Immunity

(CN) - A former inmate who was raped in a Michigan jail can sue one of the corrections officers for civil rights abuses, the 6th Circuit ruled, finding that the deputy does not qualify for immunity because he acted with "deliberate indifference."

When Russell A. Bishop was 19 years old, he spent about a month in Macomb County Jail on charges of assault with intent to murder. Bishop had a history of mental illness, and his temporary cell assignment form noted that he was of small build.

"The form also stated that Bishop was unable to understand questions; exhibited angry or hostile and bizarre behavior; and appeared anxious or afraid, depressed, confused, and unusually embarrassed," according to the ruling.

While assigned to the jail's mental health unit, corrections officers housed him with another inmate, Charlie Floyd, a 44-year-old who had been charged with multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct.

For the last 10 days of Bishop's stay in the jail, the inmates were separated by a protective order.

Bishop filed suit nearly three years later against several jail employees who he claims did nothing to stop Floyd from sexually abusing him even after he reported repeated assaults.

The defendants sought summary judgment for qualified immunity, but a Detroit federal judge denied the motion as to four jail deputies, finding that they did not qualify for immunity because they purposefully ignored Bishop's pleas for help.

The four deputies appealed to the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court, but the three-judge panel only granted immunity to three of the deputies.

"We have recognized that a prison official may be held to be deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk to inmate safety if he is aware that an inmate is vulnerable to assault and fails to protect him," Circuit Judge Boyce F. Martin wrote for the court.

The ruling states that Bishop failed to specifically identify any deputy to whom he reported Floyd's abuse, failing to prove that "each deputy had enough personal contact with him to be subjectively aware of his vulnerability to attacks or the abuse that he alleges he was suffering."

Martin found, however, that Deputy James Stanley had "substantially more interaction with Bishop than the other deputies."

"Stanley was aware of Bishop's personal characteristics because he testified that he talked to Bishop quite often on his rounds," the ruling states. "Furthermore, Bishop presents evidence from which a fact finder could conclude that Stanley was aware that Bishop belongs to a class of prisoners particularly vulnerable to sexual assault."

The judges reversed the District Court's denial of qualified immunity to three of the deputies, but upheld the decision against Stanley.

"The District Court erred in this case by failing to evaluate the liability of each deputy individually," Martin wrote.

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