Failure to protect an inmate from attack

Inmate attacks

Failure to protect inmates

We previously wrote here about the law regarding the failure of a prison to protect an inmate from suicide. Today, we look at a case regarding the failure to protect an inmate from an attack by another inmate.

Torres v. Livingston

On August 24, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in Torres v. Livingston.

In that case, Torres worked as an inmate janitor in an administrative segregation unit. During mealtimes in that unit, the floor officer – – in this case, Jonathan Endsley – – opens a row of seven inmates’ food tray slots in quick succession.

Once the slots are open, the inmate janitor delivers each inmate a food tray.

Inmates often request that officers pass through miscellaneous items, such as books, newspapers, and magazines. Usually, the officer directs an inmate janitor to fulfill those requests.

While Endsley and Torres were delivering meals, Angel Sanchez, one of the inmates, requested that Endsley retrieve pictures from the floor outside his cell.

Endsley directed Torres to pick up the photos. Torres complied willingly, noting that Sanchez “appeared harmless and asked in the right tone.”

When Torres reached to grab the pictures off the ground, however, Sanchez stabbed him on the right side of his neck.

Torres files suit.

Torres filed suit against several prison officials under Section 1983 for failure to protect him from Sanchez.

Specifically, Torres asserted that the failure to protect him violated the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

What does the Eighth Amendment require here?

The Eighth Amendment prohibits, among other things, cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners.

As the Fifth Circuit observed, the United States Supreme Court has held that the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.

Accordingly, “prison officials have a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.”

A prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment only if he “has a sufficiently culpable state of mind, which, in prison conditions cases, is one of ‘deliberate indifference’ to inmate health or safety.”

“Deliberate indifference is an extremely high standard to meet. A prison official displays deliberate indifference only if he (1) knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious bodily harm and (2) disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.”

“Deliberate indifference cannot be inferred merely from a negligent or even a grossly negligent response to a substantial risk of serious harm.”

Looking at the facts, the Fifth Circuit concluded that there was no evidence that the prison officials knew of and disregarded the risk of Sanchez attacking Torres.

So, Torres lost his case.

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