[Ppnews] Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss Supermax Abuse Lawsuits

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 25 13:10:53 EDT 2013

  Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss Supermax Abuse Lawsuits

Mentally ill prisoners at America's most famous prison win the day in 
court -- but still have a long way to go to get the relief they've 

Andrew Cohen <http://www.theatlantic.com/andrew-cohen/> Apr 25 2013, 
11:18 AM ET

In a rebuke to the Obama Administration, a noted federal judge 
in Denver Tuesday refused to dismiss two pending civil rights lawsuits 
filed last year against Bureau of Prisons' officials accused of the 
widespread abuse and neglect of mentally ill federal inmates at the 
sprawling ADX-Florence prison facility in Colorado. If the allegations 
of the detailed complaint are true, said U.S. District Judge Richard 
Matsch, "you don't need to be a psychiatrist to know something is wrong" 
inside Supermax, America's most famous prison.

The judge's order keeps alive for now /Vega v. Davis/ 
<http://www.supermaxlawsuit.com/vega-case/>, a wrongful death action 
brought in May 2012 by the family of Jose Martin Vega, an inmate in 
Colorado who hanged himself in his cell in 2010 following what 
plaintiffs' lawyers say was an extend period of mental illness left 
by prison staff. Judge Matsch also permitted to proceed further toward 
trial a case styled /Cunningham v. Bureau of Prisons/ 
<http://www.supermaxlawsuit.com/cunningham-case/>, a broader civil 
challenge alleging longtime patterns of abuse and neglect of the 
mentally ill at America's most famous federal prison.

The essence of both cases is that federal prison officials at 
ADX-Florence are violating the rights of mentally ill inmates to be free 
from "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment. The 
inmates allege that they have been tortured and abused by their jailors 
and deprived of basic medical and mental health needs by prison doctors. 
Many of the inmates have taken to self-mutilation in their cells, while 
mental health counseling remains sporadic and ineffective. ''Why 
shouldn't we be addressing that?" Judge Matsch asked early in the hearing.

The judge dismissed one of the claims in the /Vega/ case and ruled that 
prison officials named in the /Cunningham/ complaint could not be sued 
in their personal capacities. He also ordered the attorneys for the 
plaintiffs to narrow the scope of their main complaint, which the judge 
described as a "polemic against the Bureau of Prisons." I "didn't need 
to be hit over the head that hard" to get the point," Judge Matsch told 
the inmates' attorneys. He said he wanted to "shake this case up" by 
focusing upon its core constitutional issues.

And he did so by repeatedly expressing skepticism about the claims made 
by government attorneys. Mentally ill inmates can get better, suggested 
Justice Department lawyer Amy Padden. Bound "in a control unit?" shot 
back Judge Matsch. At another point, the judge asked rhetorically: "Are 
we having people going mad down in Florence" because they aren't being 
treated in accordance with the Eighth Amendment? In his view, the 
/Cunningham /litigation will proceed on two legal theories: that prison 
officials are failing to follow their own regulations; and that the 
regulations are inadequate to provide the inmates with basic 
constitutional rights.

During the 75-minute-long hearing, which took place in a federal 
courtroom in Denver, Judge Matsch quickly made it clear that he rejected 
the written arguments made by Justice Department lawyers who had 
asserted in their briefs that the inmates had not alleged enough 
relevant facts to prove they had been harmed by prison policies. "I am 
very concerned about what is happening to these people" at the prison, 
the judge told Padden. Based upon the allegations, he added at another 
point, "the need for medical treatment is obvious."

Judge Matsch's procedural rulings do not guarantee that the plaintiffs 
will prevail. Indeed, the judge warned the attorneys for the inmates 
that they still face many legal procedural and substantive hurdles to 
relief. But the judge's orders mean that prison officials now are 
subject to extensive pretrial discovery and will have to turn over to 
the plaintiffs' lawyers thousands of pages of prisons records -- as well 
as submit to their own sworn depositions. All sides indicated that 
additional plaintiffs are likely to be added to the main case as a 
result of this discovery.

Before the hearing, federal prison officials announced that they were 
already considering a change to one of the disputed policies at the 
Florence facility. One of the allegations of the main complaint is that 
prison policy precludes the use of psychotropic medicine on mentally ill 
prisoners in the control unit at Florence. The failure to dispense this 
medicine to inmates who need it most, the plaintiffs' lawyers allege, 
guarantees that those inmates will remain mentally ill, or see their 
mental conditions worsen, the longer they stay in that unit.


/This piece is another in /The Atlantic's/ continuing series /An 
American Gulag 

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