Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Inmate sexual abuse may violate Eighth Amendment

Two inmates alleged that a corrections officer touched them sexually. They sued under Section 1983. The Court of Appeals says this kind of abuse violates the Eighth Amendment, and the case is reinstated.

The case is Crawford v. Cuomo, decided on August 11. As this case was dismissed under Rule 12 for failure to state a claim, the facts are straightforward. Corley says he "was visiting with his wife when Corrections Officer Simon Prindle ordered him out of the visiting room and sexually abused him. Prindle informed Corley that 'he was going to make sure Mr. Corley did not have an erection,' and after ordering Corley to stand against the wall with his feet spread apart, Prindle 'paused to fondle and squeeze [his] penis.'” Four days later, Prindle abused James Crawford, another inmate. "As Crawford was leaving the mess hall, Prindle stopped him and initiated a search. During the search, Prindle paused around Crawford’s crotch, 'grabbed' and 'held' his penis and asked 'what’s that?' Crawford responded: 'That’s my penis, man.' Prindle pushed his knee into Crawford’s back, pinning him to the wall, tightened his grip around the neck of Crawford’s sweatshirt, and told him to 'stay on the fucking wall' if he didn’t want Prindle to 'ram [his] head into the concrete.' Prindle continued to 'squeeze' and 'fondle' the area around Crawford’s penis and 'roam' his hands down Crawford’s thigh." Prindle also threatened to send Crawford to solitary confinement if he resisted the abuse. "When Crawford told Prindle that the search was not in accordance with search and frisk procedures, Prindle responded: 'You don’t have any rights in here. . . . I’ll run my hands up the crack of your ass if I want to.'”

In 1997, the Court of Appeals held in the Boddie case that "a single act of sexual abuse may violate the Eighth Amendment if ... it is entirely gratuitous and devoid of penological purpose." In other words, it is against the law to perform a sexual act on an inmate for no good reason. But in the Boddie case, the Court said the plaintiff did not have a case after a female corrections officer made a pass at plaintiff, touched his penis, made sexually suggestive comments and bumped into him "with her whole body vagina against penis." The Court of Appeals now says that Boddie might be decided differently today as times have changed in the nearly 20 years since Boddie was decided; society has further cracked down on inmate sexual abuse and the Eighth Amendment does take into account "contemporary standards of decency."

Here is the legal standard the Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Walker and Lynch) sets forth in this case:

To show that an incident or series of incidents was serious enough to implicate the Constitution, an inmate need not allege that there was penetration, physical injury, or direct contact with uncovered genitalia. A corrections officer’s intentional contact with an inmate’s genitalia or other intimate area, which serves no penological purpose and is undertaken with the intent to gratify the officer’s sexual desire or humiliate the inmate, violates the Eighth Amendment. Similarly, if the situation is reversed and the officer intentionally brings his or her genitalia into contact with the inmate in order to arouse or gratify the officer’s sexual desire or humiliate the inmate, a violation is self‐evident because there can be no penological justification for such contact. And even if contact between an officer and an inmate’s genitalia was initially justified, if the officer finds no contraband, continued sexual contact may be actionable.
If plaintiffs' accounts are true, they have a case against Prindle. If the allegations are not true, then this decision will always come up in a Google search if someone searchs Prindle's name. Think about that for a minute. Anyway, the case is remanded to the district court to consider whether Prindle is entitled to qualified immunity.

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