Excessive Force Case Reinstated, New Judge

A federal appeals court has reinstated the excessive force claims of a Nevada state prison inmate over what he says was a 2009 beating by officers after the inmate complained he was being beaten by a cellmate.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ordered that the case be reassigned to a new judge, removing it from U.S. District Judge Robert Jones.

The appeals panel said Monday that Charles Manley raised sufficient evidence that state officials at Ely State Prison must fface trial on the disputed claims.

Manley says he engaged in self-defense from an attack by his cellmate in July 2009 and that he used the prison intercom multiple times to ask for help from a guard. The guard denies receiving the requests.

Sometime later, officers responded to reports of a fight in Manley’s cell and conducted a “cell extraction” of both inmates, which was video-recorded as required by Nevada prison rules.

But only one camera was used and once the video of Manley’s extraction was complete the camera panned to the extraction of his cellmate. Maney alleged that once the camera panned away officers Rowley and Hammock “punched, kicked and stomped him while he was restrained in handcuffs and leg irons,” the court said.

When the video pans back to Manley it show him walking briefly before officers begin carrying him by his shackles. Lifting an inmate by his restrains is against prison training but does not violate Nevada prison policy.

Manley alleged he suffered numerous injuries. The prison medical records reflect injuries without stating a cause. The record also alleges Manley was under the influence of methamphetamine.

Manley was subjected to discipline hearings, which he challenged and ultimately filed a complaint against the state prison in 2011.

Despite a magistrate’s recommendation that the excessive force claims should not be thrown out, Judge Jones rejected that position and granted summary judgment for the state of Nevada.

To toss the case, Jones had to reject Manley’s testimony and thus the judge threw out a case where facts were clearly in dispute and should be resolved by a trial, the panel said.

The appeals court did dismiss Manley’s deliberate indifference claim against the guards because he waited more than six months to file the claim.

In a 2-1 vote, the appeals court held that Jones had engaged in an unusual calculation that although he had been reversed four times in similar cases, juries had ultimately decided the four cases in favor of the state, as the judge had done, so his record was “ultimately very good.”  The appeals court said the judge implied they should defer to his judgment.

“By matching his own reversals in other ‘similar’ cases with what he appears to construe as jury ‘reversals’ of our rulings on appeal, he district judge describes a personal matrix wherein the ultimate finding of no liability by a jury justifies his prior entry of summary judgment for appellees even if his doing so violated governing law,” wrote Judge Milan Smith.  “Taking such a position is highly unusual, and goes well beyond a mere legal error or offhand comment. It strongly suggests that the district judge will ‘have substantial difficulty in putting out of his… mind previously expressed views,’” Smith wrote.

Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain dissented.

Case: Manley v. Rowley, No. 15-15320


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