No Liability for Elderly Man’s Jailhouse Beating

     (CN) – A senile, 67-year-old man, who was arrested for trying to enter the wrong house, cannot sue the prison guards who failed to protect him from a vicious beating by a fellow inmate, the 11th Circuit ruled.
     In January 2008, Bruce Goodman, 67, suffered a stroke, and began showing signs of dementia.
     Nine months later, he went for a walk in the middle of the night, became confused, and attempted to enter another trailer, believing it to be his home. He was arrested for loitering, and taken to jail.
     Goodman’s wife, Mary Goodman, called 911, and immediately went to the jail, where she explained her husband’s medical condition, and requested that he be placed in isolation so he would not “unintentionally insult another inmate and thereby come in harm’s way,” according to the judgment.
     The jail acted upon Mrs. Goodman’s request, and placed Goodman in Housing Unit 7, where prisoners are usually placed in their own cell. However, Goodman was placed in a cell with another inmate, Antonio Raspberry.
     The following morning, a correctional officer found Goodman sitting on his bunk covered in blood, with his eyes swollen shut. When asked what caused his injuries, Goodman, clearly confused, lifted up his hands and said, “These two right here,” but an investigation found that Raspberry had inflicted the severe beating on Goodman.
     Goodman spent a week in intensive care, then two to three weeks in the jail infirmary to recover from the attack.
     Mrs. Goodman says the beating forever changed her husband and considerably advanced his dementia, so that he must now live in a nursing home.
     An internal Sheriff’s investigation found that the correctional officers on guard that night, Robyn Boland and Herbert Feemster, did not check Goodman’s cell even once during the night, or complete the required head count at midnight.
     In addition, another inmate attempted to alert the officers of the assault, but the officers had deactivated that inmate’s emergency call button because they believed he “was pushing the button so that he could request free time to use the telephone,” the judgment says.
     The investigation recommended that Boland and Feemster should be fired for negligence, but this discipline was later reduced to a 14-day suspension.
     In court, Mrs. Goodman sued Boland, Feemster, and Clayton County Sheriff Kemuel Kimbrough for violating her husband’s 14th Amendment rights by showing deliberate indifference for his safety.
     But the district court dismissed her case, and the 11th Circuit affirmed the ruling on Friday.
     “The problem with this case is that no evidence presented would support a reasonable jury’s finding that Boland and Feemster harbored a subjective awareness that Goodman was in serious danger while in his cell on the night of September 9-10, 2008. The failure to conduct the cell checks and head counts is negligence of the purest form; it is of no value in answering the key question here – namely, whether Boland and Feemster knew of a substantial risk of serious harm to Goodman,” Judge Charles Wilson said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     The guards certainly failed to fulfill their duties to Goodman, but that negligence is not evidence that they were aware Goodman was at risk, the 19-page opinion ruled. Goodman “cannot say, ‘Well, they should have known,'” the panel found.
     Clarifying the opinion, Wilson continued: “Our decision in this case should not be taken to condone Boland and Feemster’s actions. To the contrary, we are disturbed by the dereliction of duty that facilitated the violence visited upon Goodman while he was under the officers’ charge. But we are federal judges, not prison administrators, and the standards for coloring a constitutional claim in this area of the law are exacting for the very purpose of preventing federal judges like us from meddling, even by our best lights, in the administration of our nation’s prisons.”

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