Prison Guards Who Forced Naked Inmate To Sleep in Sewage and Urine Were Given Qualified Immunity. SCOTUS Disagreed.
In September of 2013, prison guards escorted a naked Trent Taylor, then an inmate at the John T. Montford Psychiatric Facility Unit in Lubbock, Texas, to his cell. That cell, he contends, was covered in “massive” amounts of human feces—on the ceiling, on the floor, on the walls, and on the windows. He didn’t eat for four days because he was anxious he’d risk contamination. Nor did he drink anything after observing that feces were “packed inside the water faucet.”
He next moved to a seclusion cell, one that came without a toilet, bed, or water fountain. Its only contents: sewage, built up from a clogged drain on the floor. When Taylor asked to use the restroom, the guards denied his request and told him to urinate in the drain. He would then have to sleep in his own urine, since the floor was already steeped in waste, and since he was without a bed. After 24 hours, he urinated on himself involuntarily, and slept, naked, in sewage.
Taylor sued those guards for violating his Eighth Amendment rights. In December 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit conceded his rights were violated—but awarded the defendants qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that makes it especially difficult to sue public officials for misconduct.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled 7–1 that was the wrong decision. It’s a welcome change from the high court, which over and over again has declined to consider a spate of cases surrounding qualified immunity and its deleterious effects.
Such shyness is rich when considering that it was the Supreme Court that created qualified immunity. It is the American public, however, that has had to reckon with the consequences. The doctrine shields public servants from federal civil suits unless their misbehavior was “clearly established” in previous case law.
That standard sounds benign. Quite the opposite, as it requires that any alleged wrongdoing be outlined with near-exacting precision in a court precedent within the same federal circuit or via the Supreme Court. A salient example: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gave qualified immunity to two cops who stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant. Though the judges agreed the officers “ought to have recognized that the alleged theft was morally wrong,” the two cops couldn’t have known for certain without a specific case on the books telling them so. Their victims were n
Article from Latest – Reason.com