NEW ORLEANS - Last week, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled that Ronnie Morgan, a prisoner who was neglected by prison guards, stabbed by fellow inmates, and denied help by those on duty, has a valid case which will go forward.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is representing Ronnie Morgan in his lawsuit against Elayn Hunt Correctional Center Warden Cornel Hubert. Morgan was a federal inmate in protective custody at Orleans Parish Prison when Hurricane Katrina struck. When he was evacuated with other inmates to Hunt, he was put in a field with the general population, where guards should have known he was in danger. Morgan asked to be moved but was not.
Morgan was stabbed in the head and the neck, and laughed at by guards when he asked for help. He wandered the field in his blood-soaked clothes, afraid to go to sleep that night. He did not receive any medical care for his stab wounds until he was transferred to another prison four days later.
Warden Cornel Hubert asked to be dismissed from the case, but the court denied his motion, citing a prisoner's Constitutional right to be protected from other prisoners. Under current law, prison officials must make reasonable efforts to guarantee inmates' safety.
"Even under the extreme circumstances of the Hurricane Katrina," Judge Lemelle ruled, the guard should have known that, "someone in protective custody, in a field with the general population prisoners, would be in danger of attack. The Supreme Court has held that a prison official who 'knows of and disregards an excessive to inmate health or safety' has violated a clearly established right."
Judge Lemelle found that the plaintiff pled actions that rise to the level of "deliberate indifference," the standard needed for the case to move forward. "This is vindication that prisoners have a right to be heard when their rights are violated," said ACLU staff attorney Katie Schwartzmann. "Prisoners pleaded with the guards not to be put on the field because they knew they would be attacked. They were put out there anyway, in disturbing disregard for their lives. They were entitled to medical treatment for their injuries," Schwartmann continued. "Those who abuse prisoners must be held accountable, and we are pleased that Judge Lemelle will allow Mr. Morgan's case against the warden to continue."