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One Would Think That Holding A Prisoner Naked In A Cell Full Of Feces And Urine Would Be Against The Law.

Trent Taylor is a prisoner doing 10 years for robbery in a Texas State Prison.

According to court documents:

Taylor alleges that, for six full days in September 2013, correctional officers confined him in a pair of shockingly unsanitary cells. The first cell was covered, nearly floor to ceiling, in “‘massive amounts’ of feces”: all over the floor, the ceiling, the window, the walls, and even “‘packed inside the water faucet.’”

Fearing that his food and water would be contaminated, Taylor did not eat or drink for nearly four days. Correctional officers then moved Taylor to a second, frigidly cold cell, which was equipped with only a clogged drain in the floor to dispose of bodily wastes.

Taylor held his bladder for over 24 hours, but he eventually (and involuntarily) relieved himself, causing the drain to overflow and raw sewage to spill across the floor. Because the cell lacked a bunk, and because Taylor was confined without clothing, he was left to sleep naked
in sewage.

Taylor sued the state and the corrections officers for multiple violations of his rights including violation of the Eight Amendment which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”

We may be crazy, but we think being forced to sleep in feces and urine while naked is “cruel and unusual punishment.”

It was here that “qualified immunity” reared it’s ugly head.

“Qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, reasonably misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted.” Brosseau v. Haugen

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the conditions violated the Eighth Amendment but ruled:

[….] based on its assessment that “[t]he law wasn’t clearly established” that “prisoners couldn’t be housed in cells teeming with human waste” “for only six days,” the court concluded that the prison officials responsible for Taylor’s confinement did not have “‘fair warning’ that their specific acts were unconstitutional.”

Put another way, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the conditions were horrible and violated the Eighth Amendment, but there was no law saying prison officials could not keep a person in those conditions for 6 days. The Court wasn’t ruling on the conditions so much, but were saying that there was no clear legal precedent on the number of days a prisoner could be kept in those conditions.

They therefore ruled that the case against the guards be dismissed.

(No word if this meant that in the future, officials could keep prisoners in those conditions for one day, five days, seven days, etc. There was no indication whether cases would be thrown out on the number of days a prisoner being kept in those conditions if there was no previous case with a specific number of days.)

The Supreme Court issued a ruling on November 20, 2020 that basically said “stop that nonsense.”

[….] no reasonable correctional officer could have concluded that, under the extreme circumstances of this case, it was constitutionally permissible to house Taylor in such deplorably unsanitary conditions for such an extended period of time. See Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002) (explaining that “‘a general constitutional rule already identified in the decisional law may apply with obvious clarity to the specific conduct in question’” (quoting United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S.259,271 (1997))); 536 U. S.,at 745 (holding that “[t]he obvious cruelty inherent” in putting inmates in certain wantonly “degrading and dangerous” situations provides officers “with some notice that their alleged conduct violate[s]” the Eighth Amendment).

The Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit’s ruling and sent it back down the legal chain with the officers no longer protected by “qualified immunity.”

Good.

Dismissal of cases based on “qualified immunity” have allowed too long of a legal leash for officers who commit a crime to claim that there was no law or ruling saying what they were doing as police officers was wrong.

Other egregious cases of “qualified immunity” cases have been highlighted in the past:

Consider the two cops who received qualified immunity after allegedly stealing $225,000. Or the cop who received qualified immunity after shooting a 10-year-old (or, alternatively, the one who shot a 15-year-old). Or the cops who received qualified immunity after assaulting and arresting a man for standing outside of his own house. Or the prison guard who received qualified immunity after hiding while an escaped inmate raped someone in the building. Or the cops who received qualified immunity after siccing a police canine on a person who’d surrendered.

The real problem is that “qualified immunity” give officers a “get out of jail card” for acts that the general public would be convicted of. The public knows that stealing $225K is illegal. The public knows that walking onto a man’s property and beating him is illegal. The public knows that allowing a rape is illegal. The public knows that attacking a person who is not fighting is illegal. Yet for at least the first bite of the apple, cops get a pass.

It shouldn’t be that way.

Qualified immunity must be reformed. It doesn’t have to be eliminated, but it needs to be changed.

The decision of the Fifth Circuit in this case shows why.

At the end of the opinion, the Supreme Court noted that the nine correction officers would need to be interviewed and their actions analyzed.

Why?

[T]he record suggests that at least some officers involved in Taylor’s ordeal were deliberately indifferent to the conditions of his cells. See, e.g., 946 F. 3d, at 218 (one officer, upon placing Taylor in the first feces-covered cell, remarked to another that Taylor was “‘going to have a long weekend’”); ibid., and n. 9 (another officer, upon placing Taylor in the second cell, told aylor he hoped Taylor would “‘f***ing freeze’”).

If true, these officers need to be held accountable for their actions. If nothing else, Taylor deserves his day in court, which is exactly what the Supreme Court said.



2 Responses to “One Would Think That Holding A Prisoner Naked In A Cell Full Of Feces And Urine Would Be Against The Law.”

  1. Matthew Wall says:

    Yanks are wankers. They voted for Biden. [content removed – see below.]

    • AAfterwit says:

      Matthew Wall,

      Thank you for the comment.

      As per our commenting policies, we have removed a section of your comment for using language that is inappropriate according to our policies.

      Also, the incident in question took place in Texas, which is decidedly in the south, so we are unsure how your comment is relevant to this post.

      In the future, please try to stay on point and avoid certain words and language.

      Thanks.

      A. Afterwit.

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