Jail Deaths & Use of Excessive Force

Reigning in the Abuse of Power

While the majority of police officers, as well as jail and prison guards, are committed to their job and act in an ethical manner, these groups of people are given a great deal of control over those they interact with. In far too many cases, abuse of this power can be particularly shocking. Use of force in jails is a legally complex area, primarily due to the varying standards applied.

Allegations of the use of excessive force by police and jail personnel continue to generate media headlines more than two decades after the Los Angeles riots called public attention to the issue. A Gallup poll provides insights into the overall distrust felt by Americans toward our law enforcement systems, with low marks given particularly for inappropriate use of force and treating racial and ethnic groups equally.

How Dangerous are Jails and Prisons?

As far as our jails and prisons go, there are few statistics to support the level of excessive force often used on prisoners. Very recently a lengthy federal investigation into the New York DOC revealed “systemic abuse of male teenage inmates at three juvenile detention centers on Riker’s Island.” In fact, the excessive amounts of force and physical violence used to punish young offenders was called “deviant and calculated.”

Many believe the excessive use of force seen on Riker’s Island is hardly an isolated incident, and, in fact, occurs with alarming regularity across the nation. Experts point to what is called a “code of silence” among correctional officers and jail employees which appears to include a lack of ethics and little fear on the part of the guards of repercussions for their behavior. The bottom line is that in 1994 the United States Supreme Court found that jails and prisons have an obligation to provide for the basic needs of inmates.

When the State by the affirmative exercise of its power so restrains and individual’s liberty that it renders him unable to care for himself, and at the same time fails to provide for his basic needs – e.g. food, clothing, shelter, medical care and reasonable safety – it transgresses the substantive limits of the Constitution.  Farmer v. Brennen, No. 92-724, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994)

Factors in Jail Injuries and Deaths

The law firm of Peck, Hadfield, Baxter and Moore understands that when jailers fail in their duty to care for individuals entrusted to their custody, those same jails can become an extremely dangerous place for those incarcerated inside. We trust jailers to provide a humane, safe environment for those in their custody and when this trust is breached, whether from negligence, indifference, abuse or violence, the jail or prison can be liable for the resulting harm. Some of the more common factors involved in jail deaths or serious injuries include overcrowding, outsourcing of jail services, failure to adequately train jail staff, and failure to adequately supervise jailers.

How and Why – Peck Hadfield Baxter and Moore Can Help

At Peck Hadfield we don’t take cases of jail death or excessive force because we feel sympathy towards career criminals. We simply believe strongly that a person paid with American tax dollars should not be allowed to put on a prison guard uniform and commit acts of violence against inmates. Our firm has a great deal of experience handling cases related to jail deaths and the use of excessive force:

  • In 2013 Attorneys Shaun Peck, Brandon Baxter and Shawn Bailey obtained a reversal of summary judgment against the Caribou County, Idaho Jail following the death of an inmate.
  • In August, 2014, our attorneys settled a case involving excessive force against Twin Falls County, Idaho.
  • Attorney Brandon Baxter represented the estate of a young woman who died in a jail suicide after having her pleas for medical attention and help ignored by jailers.
  • Attorney Shawn Bailey routinely helps those who have suffered serious injury or death resulting from a failure by jailers to protect prisoners from health and safety risks as well as those who have suffered serious injury or death related to police brutality.

If you or a loved one has suffered jail injury or death, the Peck Hadfield attorneys can help you determine whether compensation is owed as a result of negligence, indifference, abuse or violence. Contact Peck Hadfield Baxter & Moore at 435-787-9700.


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