ACLU To Represent Former Wyoming Prisoner Subjected To Abuse By Prison Guard
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CHEYENNE, WY – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Wyoming today officially took up the representation of a former Wyoming State Penitentiary (WSP) prisoner who was subjected to unconstitutional treatment by a prison guard and forced into administrative segregation.
According to a lawsuit filed on March 2, 2009 by the former prisoner, Steven Ervin, who was released from WSP in December 2008 and is currently on parole, WSP guard Justin Snell carried out a systematic campaign of retaliation against Ervin after Ervin succeeded in having an order by Snell overturned by one of Snell’s superiors. According to the lawsuit, Snell responded by erroneously informing three of Ervin’s fellow prisoners that Ervin was a snitch, leaving him vulnerable to physical attacks by other WSP prisoners. Snell also embarked on a campaign of harassment against Ervin and Ervin’s wife, going so far as to make rude comments to her at her place of employment.
“What Snell did in this case to Mr. Ervin is unconscionable and a clear violation of his constitutional rights,” said Stephen Pevar, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “Snell deliberately told a lie to three prisoners about Ervin, knowing that those prisoners might attack Ervin in retaliation. Snell exhibited a clear and deliberate indifference to Mr. Ervin’s safety and he must be held accountable for doing so.”
According to Ervin’s lawsuit, Ervin had arranged with Snell’s supervisor to have a particular prisoner move into his cell with him as his cellmate. Despite this arrangement, Snell ordered that a different prisoner be assigned to Ervin’s cell. Ervin appealed the order to Snell’s supervisor, and had it successfully overturned.
Snell then retaliated against Ervin by telling three prisoners that Ervin secretly “‘snitching'” on them to prison staff. According to Ervin’s lawsuit, Snell’s labeling of Ervin as a snitch left him in imminent danger. Indeed, the three prisoners subsequently cornered Ervin and threatened him with bodily harm.
According to Ervin’s lawsuit, Snell was well aware at the time that he began telling other prisoners that Ervin was a snitch that such a label had the potential for Ervin being subjected to great harm and retaliation by other prisoners. In addition, Snell’s constant harassment of Ervin was retaliatory and oppressive.
Because he was vulnerable to attacks at the hands of his fellow prisoners as a result of Snell’s false accusations, Ervin was forced to live in administrative segregation.
“Simply being incarcerated does not mean that prisoners should have to fear for their physical safety,” said Pevar. “But because of Snell’s callous and deliberate actions, Ervin feared that he could be the subject of an attack at the hands of his fellow prisoners at any time.”
A copy of Ervin’s lawsuit against Snell is available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/ervin-v-snell-second-amended-complaint
A copy of the ACLU brief opposing Snell’s motion to dismiss the case is available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/ervin-v-snell-plaintiffs-response-defendants-motion-dismiss
Additional information about the American Civil Liberties Union is available online at: www.aclu.org
Additional information about the ACLU of Wyoming is available online at: www.aclu-wy.org
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