Faulkner County jailers can be held legally liable for giving wrenches to inmates to repair a broken shower without supervision, allowing other inmates to make a weapon and attack a cellmate, a federal judge said Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Brian Miller adopted recommendations that U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Ray made last month: that jailers cannot claim qualified immunity to escape liability in a lawsuit filed by Sammie Brown.
Brown, 39, now an inmate at the state Department of Correction, filed a handwritten federal lawsuit over an April 8, 2017, incident in the county jail. He said two supervising jailers, Cpl. Andrew Stubbe and Sgt. Rusty Page, authorized officers Harold Roy Roark and Nathan Ward to give wrenches to inmate Ricky Williford -- who was being held on murder charges -- so inmates in Cell 308 could repair a broken shower.
Brown said the lack of supervision over Williford and his cellmates allowed some of the inmates to use the tools to remove shower parts and pieces of pipe. The heavy metal parts were then placed in the end of a sock and used the next day as a weapon by an inmate referred to only as "Inmate Barnes" to strike Brown, the lawsuit states. It says the attack on Brown seriously injured his right hand and left shoulder.
The county argued that the jailers were protected from liability by qualified immunity, which shields public officials performing discretionary functions from civil damages if their conduct doesn't violate clearly established rights. The county asked the judge to throw out Brown's claims that the jailers created unconstitutional conditions of confinement by allowing dangerous objects that could be used as weapons to fall into the hands of inmates.
In April 2018, Ray dismissed other claims in the lawsuit, including those of inadequate medical care, against Sheriff Tim Ryals and two other officers.
But in his latest findings and recommendations, filed Aug. 23, Ray sided against the county. He noted that Brown was in the Conway jail after having been arrested on Feb. 17, 2017, on a probation violation. He was still awaiting adjudication of his case when, on April 8, a plumber was contacted to repair the shower in Cell 308, where Brown was housed.
Ray noted that before a plumber arrived -- if one ever did -- Roark and Ward delivered a pipe wrench, a crescent wrench and socket wrenches to Williford, and the inmates in the cell used the wrenches to dismantle the shower and remove parts of it and pieces of pipe.
On April 9, a fight broke out in the cell between Brown and Barnes, and jailers reported that the two inmates were "swinging socks with something in them" before other officers intervened, separated the prisoners and escorted them from the cell.
Ray said that according to Brown, Barnes had put the shower parts and pieces of pipe inside a sock, creating a weapon that he used to attack Brown. Brown complained, "Ward and Roark brought tools to inmate Ricky [Williford] who is in jail for beating a guy to death with a bat."
Brown said in the lawsuit that Williford had stolen the parts as he fixed the shower, and he noted that Williford "is not a plumber he is an inmate." He also wrote, "Who in their right mind would let an inmate as dangerous as [Williford] have access to such weapons when he is facing life."
Brown urged officials to review a videotape that would show the officers handing Williford the tools.
Before filing the federal lawsuit, Brown filed grievances with the county in which he asked, "Does this facility not generate enough revenue to hire a plumber?" He also asked if the jailers were trying to save money by letting an inmate perform plumbing repairs.
Ray noted that the jail's policy doesn't allow inmates to have access to tools or to use tools to repair showers.
The judge said that while Page has denied ordering the two subordinate jailers to give tools to the inmates, or directing Stubbe to issue such orders, "the competing sworn statements by Brown and Page raise numerous genuine issues of material fact surrounding whether [the jailers] are entitled to qualified immunity, as they argue. .... Accordingly, that motion should be denied."
Ray noted that the Eighth Amendment requires jailers to "provide humane conditions of confinement," which includes "taking reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates."
Department of Correction records show that Brown was sentenced on Nov. 21, 2017, to 10-year prison terms for second-degree sexual assault and failing to register as a sex offender. He was also sentenced to six years on a probation revocation on an earlier theft charge.
On May 4, 2017, the Log Cabin Democrat reported that Williford, 54, of Conway was sentenced to 15 years in prison on second-degree murder and first-degree battery convictions in the November 2015 death of Bradley Stinson and the beating of Paul Taylor.
The report said Faulkner County sheriff's deputies found Stinson, 52, dead and Taylor, 40, severely injured at a residence in Conway, where a baseball bat was also found. A witness told authorities that Williford struck Taylor on the head, but that Stinson had already been attacked and the witness didn't see what had happened to him. Police said Williford was arrested after he was found barefoot with blood on his back and hands.
Metro on 09/19/2019
Print Headline: Immunity claim in inmate attack rejected by judge