They revive lawsuit that alleged beatings in jail off camera

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

The lawsuit by relatives of Erie Moore includes allegations that guards at Monroe’s Richwood Correctional Center sometimes beat and pepper-sprayed handcuffed inmates, including Moore, in an area where there were no security cameras.

A federal judge had dismissed much of the lawsuit, which seeks damages, but a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans revived much of the case in a ruling last month. . On Friday, the appeals court issued an order denying a rehearing by the full court, remanding the case to US District Judge Terry Doughty.

“The record in this case is beyond troubling,” Fifth Circuit Judge Don Willett wrote in the July opinion, saying a jury trial is needed to resolve the facts.

Among the troubling aspects cited in Willett’s July opinion was testimony that guards routinely herded inmates into an area of ​​the dungeon called “Four-Way” where they could not be videotaped while pepper-spraying and beating inmates. inmates.

“Even an Assistant Warden at the prison admitted that he and guards used the Quad to ‘interrogate’ prisoners. And two prison guards testified under oath that they used the Four-Way to interrogate and abuse several handcuffed detainees,” Willett wrote in the July opinion that was consolidated with Friday’s action.

Among the arguments in the opinion were that Moore’s family was entitled to claim that excessive force caused Moore’s death, that the private companies contracted to administer the lockdown (Richwood Correctional Center LLC and LaSalle Management LLC) are not immune from lawsuit and that the family can pursue punitive damages against corporations and guards.

The record shows that Moore had been arrested at a Monroe donut shop on a disorderly persons charge when he was booked into jail. He was described as “agitated and unruly” 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 “combatant” inmate, Vernon White. And the two never parted ways, despite fighting, until White was found in convulsions with blood around his mouth. White later died at a hospital.

Moore died hours later after being forcibly removed from the cell. The court record says there is video showing a guard hitting him in the head once and him hitting him on the ground once and dropping him once while guards carried him.

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

Willett, appointed to the court by former President Donald Trump, wrote for a panel that included James Ho, also a Trump appointee, and Stephen Higginson, an appointee by former President Barack Obama. Ho partly dissented from July’s opinion. He stated among his reasons that the family’s wrongful death claims require a determination of which of the defendants caused Moore’s death.

But, according to Friday’s filing, neither Ho nor any other member of the 17-member court asked for a new court-wide hearing, meaning the case goes back to Doughty, another Trump appointee.


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