Tallahassee, FL — Following a five-day evidentiary hearing U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin A. Fitzpatrick has ordered the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) to stop retaliation and threats of retaliation against incarcerated people for participating in the Harvard v. Inch lawsuit.
The lawsuit challenges the FDC’s use of solitary confinement, also referred to as “isolation” as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Florida Legal Services, and the Florida Justice Institute in 2019 in the Northern District of Florida.
At this hearing, eleven people in solitary confinement testified virtually from four different prisons with shackles around their wrists and prison guards sitting inches away from them. They testified about how prison guards verbally and physically intimidated them because they spoke to class counsel and their experts. For example, officers denied them basic necessities of food and water; called them “snitches;” demanded to know what they told their attorneys; and threatened to physically assault them just for exercising their constitutional rights by participating in this lawsuit. Fitzpatrick, in ruling in plaintiffs’ favor, determined that these witnesses provided “credible testimony.”
Several prison administrators and officers testified in defense of FDC. Magistrate Fitzpatrick found much of their testimony to be “not credible,” “confusing,” “not believable,” and “nonsensical.” He said, “The record establishes that retaliation, harassment, and threats of retaliation continued” despite a February 2020 memo from Secretary Mark Inch prohibiting such conduct. As a result, Magistrate Fitpatrick stated it was necessary to order that “retaliation and threats of retaliation of any kind relating to an inmate’s participation in the … civil litigation will not be tolerated.”
Kelly Knapp, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center and lead counsel in the case said, “Our clients, who are already suffering because FDC locked them in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, had to face threats and harassment for exercising their constitutional rights. The cruelty displayed by employees of FDC must stop. It is an issue of fundamental fairness that anyone who wants to take part in this case be able to without threats and harassment from the Department of Corrections.”
The ruling can be read here.