(CN) – The United States may be liable for the assault of a former gang member by a rival gang in federal prison, a Florida judge ruled.
In June 2010, Oscar Otero Flores, a former member of the Surenos, was attacked by members of the Paisa, an opposing gang, while serving time at the Marianna Federal Correctional Center in the Florida panhandle. At the time of the attack, the federal prison in Marianna, a medium security facility for male inmates, was housing both Paisa and Surenos gang members, according to Flores’ complaint.
Sureno (which is Spanish for Southern) and Paisa are umbrella terms used to describe various street gangs that pay tribute to the Mexican Mafia while in federal and state prison. The gangs’ street rivalry often translates to prison rivalry when their members are incarcerated.
Flores sued the government, claiming that prison employees had knowledge of a possible attack and failed to separate the gangs before and during the attack.
The government sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Flores’ claims fell within the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Under the FTCA, the government is liable for actions committed by its employees within the scope of their employment, unless the actions involve discretionary decision-making by the employees.
In his complaint, Flores claimed that a correctional officer had failed to follow orders not to allow large groups of inmates to congregate in the yard, leaving him vulnerable to attacks by rival gang members.
U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak said it would be premature to dismiss Flores’ claims.
The discretionary function exception does not apply because “the officer had no choice and could not use his judgment in the situation,” Smoak wrote in his July 19 order.