Lawsuit Alleging Revived Off-Camera Jail Shots

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court cleared the way Friday for a lawsuit against guards and officials at a private northern Louisiana prison where an inmate died with a fractured skull in 2015. .

The lawsuit filed by family members of Erie Moore includes allegations that guards at Monroe’s Richwood Correctional Center occasionally beat and pepper-sprayed handcuffed prisoners, including Moore, in an area where he was not there were no security cameras.

A federal judge had dismissed much of the lawsuit, which sought damages, but a three-judge panel at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans revived much of the case in a ruling on last month. The appeals court on Friday issued an order refusing a rehearing by the full court, returning the case to U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty.

“The record in this case is beyond disturbing,” 5th Circuit Judge Don Willett wrote in the July opinion, saying a jury trial was needed to get the facts straight.

Among the disturbing aspects cited in Willett’s opinion in July was testimony that guards routinely took inmates to an area of ​​the dungeon called the “Four-Way” where they could not be filmed as they pepper sprayed and beat the detainees.

“Even a deputy prison warden admitted that he and the guards used the Four-Way to ‘interrogate’ prisoners. And two prison guards testified under oath that they used the Four-Way to interrogate and abuse several handcuffed inmates,” Willett wrote in the July opinion that was cemented by Friday’s action.

Among the opinion’s findings were that Moore’s family had the right to pursue claims that excessive force caused Moore’s death, that the private companies hired to handle the lockdown – Richwood Correctional Center LLC and LaSalle Management LLC – are not immune from lawsuits, and the family can sue for punitive damages against the corporations and guards.

The file shows Moore had been arrested at a Monroe donut shop for disturbing the peace when he was taken to jail. He was described as “agitated and non-compliant” when a nurse tried to examine him. Although he could have been placed in a cell alone, Willett wrote, he was placed in a cell with another “combative” inmate, Vernon White. And the two were never separated, despite fighting, until White was found having a fit and with blood around his mouth. White later died in a hospital.

Moore died hours later after being forcibly removed from the cell. The court filing says there is video showing he was hit on the head once by a guard and was knocked to the ground once and dropped once as the guards carried him.

“Guards then picked up Moore and transported him to the Four-Way,” Willett wrote.

Willett, a court appointee by former President Donald Trump, wrote for a panel that included James Ho, also appointed by Trump, and Stephen Higginson, appointed by former President Barack Obama. Ho dissented in part in the July opinion. He claimed among his reasons that the family’s wrongful death claims necessitate a determination of who among the defendants caused Moore’s death.

But, according to Friday’s filing, neither Ho nor any other member of the 17-member tribunal has called for a rehearing in court, meaning the case goes to Doughty, another Trump appointee.