Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guards Who Restrained 11-Year-Old Pretrial Detainee in Restraining Chair Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity

Blackmon v. Sutton, 2013 WL 5952135 (11/8/13) (Kan.) (Published) - Juvenile detention facility officers and officials were not entitled to qualified immunity where they allegedly shackled an 11-year-old pretrial detainee in a restraining chair for hours to punish him or for no legitimate penological purpose, even if they also used the chair at times to prevent suicide or keep order. A guard sitting on the child's chest to punish him for not doing what he was told could also be a violation of due process. Briefly sitting on a child might be reasonably related to a penological purpose, such as when the child refuses to release a weapon, but the defendants did not say what the child refused to do. He could have refused to answer an idle question unrelated to the administration of the detention facility. The denial of meaningful access to mental health care and a delay in doing so suggested a conscious disregard of a substantial risk of serious harm in violation of due process. While the defendants consulted a psychologist, they delayed considerably in doing so from the onset of the child's serious self-harm problems and there was no treatment provided after the consultation. It didn't matter that the law wasn't crystal clear on what duties were owed pretrial detainees. It is clear they have at least as much rights as convicted folks. On the other hand, it was unclear whether pretrial detainees have an independent right to be placed in a particular facility of their choice, in this case an unlocked shelter.