High court declines to consider inmate's sex-assault lawsuit

BY admin

March 08 2005 12:00 AM ET

The Supreme Court declined Monday to consider whether an inmate may sue prison officials after his cell mate sexually assaulted him.

Justices let stand a seventh U.S. circuit court of appeals ruling that reversed a $1.5 million jury award for Anthony Riccardo, an inmate at the Centralia Correctional Center in Illinois.

Riccardo twice before had changed cell mates after failing to get along. Lt. Larry Rausch then paired him with Juan Garcia, whom Riccardo objected to because of fears of gang violence. Two days later, Garcia forced him to perform oral sex in their cell.

A jury concluded that Rausch had subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment and ordered him to pay $1.5 million. But the seventh circuit disagreed. Prisons are dangerous places, it said, and so prison officials should be held responsible only if they are "deliberately indifferent" to a substantial risk of
serious harm.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a Duke law school professor representing Riccardo, argued in filings that high court review was necessary to clarify the legal standard of "deliberately indifferent."

Jurors this summer, for example, will decide whether seven Texas prison officials should be held responsible for discrimination based on sexual orientation, in a suit by a former gay inmate who says he was repeatedly raped while behind bars. "Other circuits have said that complaint of potential violence is enough because inmates cannot protect themselves and because it is necessary to err on the side of protection rather than risk violence," Chemerinsky wrote in court filings. (AP)

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