Our government... teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. ~Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis
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[Note: Though sometimes absurd, don't loose sight of the fact that
many prisoner's suits are meritorious and have led to significant legal
gains, or that they can be an important (sometimes the only) balance
against otherwise unrestrained powers of prison officials or
legislators. A number of such cases are at the end of this file --
* (U.S. v. Bottoson): Bottoson, convicted of federal firearms charges and postal fraud, and faced state court charges for the kidnapping and murder of a female postal employee. The defendant sought post-conviction relief in the federal court, and in a letter to the court said: "This defendant is accused of murder in the state of Florida, this defendant goes to a church which believes in the raising of the dead, which is the defendants right under the Constitution of the United States. This defendant wrote a letter ... stating his religious belief that if the body of the deceased [postal employee] were to be taken from the ground and brought into the defendants church the Lord of life would bring back the deceased. ... The defendant feels his 'Religious Freedom' under the constitution were violated, anyone has the right to his/her own belief under Freedom of Religion. Defendant now asks this court to uphold his rights under the constitution of the United States."
* A suit by a prisoner who claimed that the Department of Corrections planted an electronic device in his brain. (Calif.)
* (Moody v. Miller): A Texas inmate filed twenty-two complaints, alleging civil rights violations, including violations of his right to use the telephone, his right not to be required to walk barefoot across a cold floor, his right not to be issued pants that are too small.
* A suit by Lee Barnett challenging the stamping of his mail to indicate it was sent from a state prison. (Calif.)
* A Georgia inmate filed petition alleging that he was a victim of a "Behavior Modification Program" conducted by the prison, and that the "controlling system is a watchful eye of the State through electronic suveillance of the human body ..." The system, he claimed, "combs" his body and "wantonly monitors and picks up sounds and voices, but is also tuned directly to plaintiff's brain." The plaintiff sought $500,000 in damages, claiming the State had "no right without any permission from plaintiff to probe his mind and body with electric current or parabolic sound waves." (Jones v. Ault)
* A prisoner in Idaho filed suit after guards refused to "tidy up" his cell after a search.
* (Gordon v. N.J.): The Inmate, a "certified candidate for the office of President of the U.S." filed suit claiming "that he was unlawfully arrested in December 1975 while campaigning in the New Hampshire primary, and unlawfully jailed until March 15, 1976, and accordingly claimed that the 1976 presidential election was fraudulent and that new "legal" elections had to be held for the office of President. He also claimed that "Had there been a free legal 1976 Presidential election, he would now be the President."
* Beaty v. Bury: A death-row inmate sues corrections officials for taking away his Gameboy electronic game. (Arizona)
* (Demos v. Kincheloe...): This inmate filed 184 separate actions in a little more than three yearsincluding ones alleging: all Washington State law is unconstitutional because statutes subsequent to the 1881 code were not ratified by Congress; a claim for damages because prison guards refused to address him by his Islamic name; a request to require Congress to redraft language in the Declaration of Independence; a claim of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex because the State would not honor his request to be transferred to an all-women correctional institution; and a claim that the U.S. Treasury Dept violated his civil rights by discontinuing the practice of backing treasury notes by silver.
* Trice v. Reynolds: Ex-chef sues because the food was bad, yet he wanted bigger portions. (Oklahoma)
* Searight v. N.J.: Searight claimed he was taken to the Eye, Ear and Speech Clinic, where the State of New Jersey unlawfully injected him in the left eye with a radium electric beam, and that someone now talks to him on the inside of his brain. He sought $12 million in damages
* Murderer sues for $25,000, claiming a "defective" haircut resulted in lost sleep, headaches, and chest pains. (New York)
* Sir Keenan Kester Cofield an Alabame inmate was creative. Besides filing over a hundred actions against prison officials in various Alabama courts.. One court said "Cofield is an overly litigious fellow. Among the many suits he has brought from his jail cell are suits against both McDonald's and Burger King for using pork fat in the oil used to fry french fried potatoes, thereby poisoning his body, mind and soul. He has brought at least three libel actions against various newspapers for prematurely printing his obituary. He also brought an action against Coca-Cola alleging that a bottle of Coke he drank was filled with ground glass. He has threatened or sued various restaurants in various cities alleging food poisoning; it was later discovered that Cofield was incarcerated at the time he supposedly was eating in these restaurants."
* Young v. Murphy: Prisoner sues for not receiving scheduled parole hearing, though he was out on escape when the hearing was held. (Mississippi)
* Inmate, calling himself a sports fanatic, complains that, as a result of cruel and unusual punishment, he was forced to miss the NFL playoffs, especially between Miami and San Diego, San Diego and Pittsburgh, and Dallas and San Francisco. (Arkansas)
* Carter v. Ingalls: Inmate filed suit against the Georgia State Prison hospital administrator, alleging receiving improper medication for his ailments, which included "blue ink and glass in the General sensory area" of his brain, along with amnesia and failing eyesight and claimed the proper medication was "Cocane of Porcane." In a letter to the court,he claimed the hospital had put the blue ink and glass in his brain, had put his head in a sack with a rattlesnake which bit his face and cracked his skull, and that he was forced to have sexual contact with the snake. In a separate action against the warden and an inmate, Carter alleged that the warden had "gave hisreliable informers fake Pictures of me haveing [sic] sex with a dog ..."
* Brittaker v. Rowland: Inmate says his meal was in poor condition. He claims his sandwich was soggy and his cookie was broken. (Calif)
* Beverly v. Groose: Suit says inmates working in prison law library should be paid same rate as attorneys. (Missouri)
--- Florida A.G.'s Top 10 Frivolous Prison Inmate Lawsuits
10) Prisoner claims discrimination because he was not given a Department of Corrections raincoat like other inmates. (Walker v. DOC)
9) Prisoner sues to be served fresh rather than reconstituted milk. (Gerteisen v. Bowers)
8) Prisoner sues for right to conduct martial arts sparring and full- contact fighting as part of his religion. (Gibson v. Miller)
7) Prisoner sues over being served three cheese sandwiches a day for one week while in disciplinary confinement. (Derks v. Perrin, Jr.)
6) Prisoner sues because he was required to eat off of a paper plate. (Procup v. Strickland, et al)
5) Prisoner who has filed more than 140 actions in state and federal court sues over finding gristle in his turkey leg. (Attwood v. Bowers)
4) Prisoner sues to be served fruit juice at meals and three pancakes instead of two. (Spradley v.Rathman)
3) Prisoner who murdered five people sues after lightning knocks out the prison's TV satellite dish and he must watch network programs which he says contain violence, profanity and other objectionable material. (Jackson v. Barton)
2) Prisoner sues to be given Reeboks, Adidas, Pony or Avia brand hightops rather than inferior brand sneakers issued by prison. (Brown v. Singletary)
1) Prisoner who lost a lawsuit claiming his rights as a Muslim were violated because the prison put "essence of swine" in his food announces his conversion to Satanism and sues for tarot cards and doves' blood. (Marshall v. DOC)
-- Suits By Harry Franklin, An Inmate In The Oregon State Penitentiary
* Franklin claimed he was denied daily half-hour out-of-cell walks. The judge found this claim surprising, because in other filings Franklin alleged he was crippled.
* He claimed prison guards abridged his "right to be supplied" with T- shirts, a claim which had previously been dismissed.
* He claimed he did not receive "some unspecified medical treatment because an officer neglected to wake him from his afternoon nap," causing him "mental frustration," which the judge learned meant "that someone got his dander up."
* Franklin sued prison guards who he alleged "wear clopping heels on their boots, which causes plaintiff to feel he's in a Natsy [sic] prison camp."
* He asserted that his right to free speech was violated because prison staff discliplined him "for commenting on a guard's allegedly out-of- wedlock birth."
* He sought $3 million in damages for "mental frustration" he suffered when a Portland television station allegedly misidentified a "14 wheeler tractor and trailer rig" as an "18 wheeler."
* Franklin launched constitutional challenges to Oregon statutes which denied felons the ability to be candidates for public office or to vote during their incarceration.
* Franklin brought up some Oregon history in one of his claims. In 1923, the D'Autermont boys robbed a train in the Sikiyou Mountains, killing several railroadmen. According to Franklin, since the incident, trains blew their whistles as they pass the penitentiary in the early morning hours, violating his "right to public piece [sic]." The judge found that "Even assuming the railroads do carry on such a heinous practice, it would not violate one of Franklin's federally protected rights."
* He sued "Ronal Regan and his constiuants [sic]" for $8.9 million for "violation of undue restraint" in connection with an Oregon seatbelt law. he believed the law was underinclusive because it did not apply to bicycles and horses as well as cars.
* He complained that he lost sleep on three occasions because the penitentiary's steam heater pipes snap and pop, and that he endured "Harassment by Water" because the prison authority's over-watering of the prison yard in the summer made it difficult for him to find a dry place to lie down.
* He claimed the pentitentiary's cleanliness rules violated his "constitutional right to accumulate an unlimited number of newspaper clippings."
* Franklin was also a reformer, suing Oregon's governor, attorney general, legislators, and judges for failing "to pass Legislation which would keep our System such as The Courts, &/or Jails from being so corrupt."
* He complained that the penitentiary food service bakes desserts in aluminum rather than stainless steel pans, and that he could not eat from aluminum pans because the "scrapings" from the pans would "settle in [his] Human Joints."
Top Ten Non-Frivolous Lawsuits Filed By Prisoners
Prison Guards routinely sexually assault female prisoners. One officer sexually fondles a prisoner who is receiving medical care in the infirmary, forces her to perform oral sex, then rapes her. Another officer forces a prisoner to perform oral sex while she empties trash as part of a work detail. Women Prisoners v. District of Columbia, D.C. (1994) (post trial order).
Prisoners restrained in handcuffs and shackles have their heads bashed into walls and floors by prison guards, their bodies repeatedly kicked and hit with batons, their teeth knocked out, their jaws fractured, their limbs broken, and their bodies burned with scalding water. Madrid v. Gomez, Cal. (1995) (post trial order).
Confined youth are routinely beaten by facility staff, staff trafficking in illegal drugs is rampant, and sexual relations between staff and confined youth is commonplace. D.B. v. Commonwealth, Penn. (1993) (consent decree).
Dozens of women. some as young as 16, are forced to have sex with prison guards, maintenance workers, and a prison chaplain. Many become pregnant and are coerced by prison staff to have abortions. Cason v. Seckinger, Ga. (1994) (consent decree).
A 17 year-old boy, in jail for failing to pay $73 in traffic fines, is tortured for 14 hours and finally murdered in his cell by other prisoners. Another teenage had been beaten unconscious by the same prisoners several days earlier. Yellen v. Ada County, Idaho (1985) (consent decree).
Prison officials ignore warnings by the Commissioner of Health and fail to implement basic tuberculosis detection and control procedures. Over 400 prisoners are infected in a single prison. Austin v. Dept. of Corrections, Penn. (1992) (post hearing order).
Prison staff engage in sexual relations with female prisoners and allow male inmates to enter the prisons to engage in forcible intercourse with the women prisoners. Hamilton v. Morial, La. (1995) (consent decree pending court approval).
Several suicidal children are transferred to the state mental hospital where they are placed, naked or in paper gowns, in four point restraints, hands and feet found to the four corners of their beds, and then forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs as part of "aversive therapy." Robert K. v. Bell. S.C. (1984) (consent decree).
A prisoner gives birth on the floor of the jail without medical assistance three hours after informing prison staff that she was in active labor. Other prisoners have deformed or stillborn babies as a result of receiving almost no pregnancy-related medical care. Yeager v. Smith and Harris v. McCarthy, Cal. (1989) (consent decree).
Single person cells house four or five prisoners with mattresses on the floor soaked by overflowing toilets, the drinking water is contaminated with sewage, and prisoners' cells are infested with rats. Carty v. Farrelly, U.S.V.Is. (1994) (consent decree).
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