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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Feds Must Answer for Vengeful Prison Beatings

(CN) - The Bureau of Prisons may be liable to a man who became suicidal after suffering repeated attacks and assaults because he proved by wearing a wire that a guard had coerced sex from him, the 11th Circuit ruled.

The inmate is identified only as John Doe in the court record. He said he had been incarcerated in Atlanta, Georgia, when a prison guard coerced him into sexual relations.

Doe agreed to wear a wire in cooperation with a federal investigation of the officer, which resulted in the officer's resignation. Though the government had allegedly promised to keep Doe safe and transfer him to a lower security prison, the inmate was instead transferred to a high-security facility where prison staff learned about his role as an informant.

Within a few hours, prison guards put Doe in a cell with two known sexual offenders, who severely beat and assaulted him, requiring him to go to the hospital, according to the complaint. For his protection, Doe was moved to a special housing unit where prisoners spend up to 23.5 hours a day in their cells.

He was then transferred around to several other high-security locations, including back to Atlanta, where a prison guard allegedly beat Doe so badly that he had to go to the emergency room.

When he returned from the hospital, Doe was sent to a high-security prison in Kentucky where he says a fellow inmate attacked him and referred to "what you did in Atlanta."

Doe had filed his civil rights suit after that Kentucky attack, but he still endured two more beatings, allegedly related to his reputation as an informant, while his claims were pending in court.

A federal judge dismissed Doe's case after the Bureau of Prisons filed proof that it was transferring Doe to the Colorado Department of Corrections, finding Doe could not show a "substantial likelihood" he would be returned to a high-security federal facility.

The 11th Circuit reversed Tuesday, however, after finding that the transfer to Colorado "simply does not show" that the bureau "has unambiguously terminated its pattern of transferring Mr. Doe to one high-security prison after another."

"We note that the BOP has never said Mr. Doe will not be transferred back to a high-security facility," Judge Beverly Martin wrote for a three-judge panel.

Doe's history of repeated transfers supports a finding that he will likely be transferred again, the court said.

"After years of litigation and questionable transfer decisions, the BOP suddenly changed its position days before Mr. Doe's trial was set to begin," Martin wrote, abbreviating the bureau's name. "This timing suggests a change was made simply to deprive the District Court of jurisdiction.

It is also important to note that the BOP made transfer decision without reference to Doe's safety. It instead explained the move was based on Doe's failure "to maintain any extended period of good adjustment in the high level facilities available in the Bureau of Prisons," according to the ruling.

"On the record before us, the reasons given by the BOP for Mr. Doe's move do not establish that it intended to respond to Mr. Doe's concerns," Martin wrote. "And there is simply no indication that the BOP 'intends to hold steady in its revised course.'"

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