When juveniles are tried as adults for serious crimes, they are classified as “youthful offenders” in Florida’s jails and prisons. There, they may be especially vulnerable targets for exploitation, attacks or sexual assault.
The duty of care owed by the Department of Corrections, county jails and their employees to the juvenile is not the same as it might be for, say, a school to a student. However, prison officials do have a responsibility to avoid deliberate indifference. That means, those running prisons and jail don’t have a duty to make it comfortable. However, they do have to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care – and they have to take adequate measures to guarantee prisoners’ safety.
Recently, a lawsuit was filed against the Florida Department of Corrections and its employee at Sumter Correctional Institution in connection with an alleged sexual assault by six inmates against a 17-year-old male youthful offender in the communal shower. The lawsuit alleges that one morning in July 2013, the teen was surrounded by the prisoners, choked, slapped and stabbed more than 100 times with pieces of barbed wire fencing. He was then sexually assaulted with a broom handle before he lost consciousness. The details of the horrific ordeal are difficult to hear, but even worse if its true, as the teen’s lawsuit now alleges, that a prison guard was standing right outside the shower for the entire 30-minute assault – and did nothing.
This is exactly the kind of situation in which deliberate indifference might be alleged. Deliberate indifference is recognized as part of the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment.
It is tougher to prove than negligence, which is the usual standard of proof in personal injury cases. As our Miami personal injury attorneys can explain, you must show a prison official knew prisoners were at risk of harm and failed to respond reasonably.
Proof of a prison official’s knowledge may be shown through:
- Evidence that the prison official was directly told about the harm.
- The risk of harm was so obvious, the official must have known about it.
Courts may consider prior complaints or grievances. Or in a case like this, the court may look closely at the video that shows a guard was within close proximity/ earshot of what was allegedly a brutal assault. Additionally, what happened to this particular juvenile, according to the Orlando Sentinel, isn’t unique. It’s a purported rite of passage known as the, “Test of Heart.” It involves either buying commissary items for other offenders or squaring off against a group in a brutal fight. The fact that this ordeal is known means prison officials would have a duty to take action to protect youthful offenders.
One must also show there was a link between the prison official’s action (or in this case inaction) and the harm that was suffered or will be suffered. In this case, it could reasonably be alleged that the prison official’s failure to respond to the attack caused further severe and lasting injury to the plaintiff.
This particular lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of the juvenile, who was one of 1,700 inmates at that facility, which has 172 cameras and 15 security staff positions.
The alleged attackers were put into solitary confinement through the duration of the investigation, but alleged inconsistencies in the victim’s account resulted in no criminal charges being filed.
If you have suffered a personal injury in Miami, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Sex assault on teen at Florida prison spurs federal lawsuit, Jan. 28, 2016, By Elyssa Cherney, Orlando Sentinel
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