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Inmate Has a Case for Inadequate Lock-Up

CHICAGO (CN) - A man who was stabbed in his jail cell because another inmate could open his door without a key can sue corrections officials individually, a federal judge ruled.

Byron Brown has spent over two years as a pretrial detainee of the Cook County Jail.

In August 2009, a guard served Brown breakfast in his cell at 3:30 a.m., then supposedly locked and shut the cell door. Brown ate and went back to sleep.

At approximately 4 a.m., an unknown detainee "popped" open the door of Brown's cell and stabbed Brown in the head and forearm with a homemade knife. Brown required staples and stitches to close the wounds and now has permanent scars.

He sued Cook County Sherriff Thomas Dart, Cook County Jail Superintendent Michael Miller and Cook County Jail Executive Director Salvador Godinez in January 2011 for violating the 14th Amendment by failing to protect him from harm while he was in custody.

It was allegedly "widespread and common knowledge" throughout the jail that numerous cell doors were "in a state of disrepair." Specifically, Department of Justice officials inspected the condition of the jail and reported the malfunctioning doors to Cook County employees, according to the complaint.

Brown also alleged that on "numerous prior occasions," the on-duty corrections officer was absent or sleeping during his shift.

Dart, Miller and Godinez moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that Brown "failed to make any allegations as to any personal involvement" in the alleged deliberate indifference to the conditions of Brown's cell.

U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo disagreed last week, finding that the "pervasiveness of the problem and its documentation by federal authorities lead to the inference that the defendants had actual knowledge of the substantial risk posed by the broken cell doors."

"Brown need not allege that the defendants had knowledge that he specifically was likely to suffer an injury due to the malfunctioning doors," Castillo added.

Citing Supreme Court precedent, he said that the standard for deliberate indifference "does not require actual knowledge of an individualized threat - it is enough that the defendants are aware that their action may cause injury without being able to divine its most likely victim."

Castillo told the parties to re-evaluate their settlement positions and appear for a status conference on Dec. 13, 2011.

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