Lubbock, TX — According to the United States Bill of Rights, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments. All too often however, law enforcement in the United States seems to gain pleasure from violating this amendment on all fronts. And as the following case illustrates, they do so, knowing they will likely face no consequences.
Last year, a federal appeals court affirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of several prison guards who forced an inmate to sleep naked on the floor of a prison cell that was covered in human waste and raw sewage. That man is Trent Taylor and after he was sadistically tortured by these officers, he filed a lawsuit against them.
The system is set up in such a way, however, that multiple courts refused to allow him to go after the cops who locked him in this feces filled cell for days, by granting them qualified immunity.
To be clear, the officers involved never disputed locking Taylor in the feces filled room. They admitted to the fact that in September of 2013, Taylor was stripped naked and forced to stay in a cell where “almost the entire surface—including the floor, ceiling, window, walls, and water faucet was covered with ‘massive amounts’ of feces.”
Taylor couldn’t eat in the cell because he feared contamination and couldn’t drink any water because feces were “packed inside the water faucet.” According to the lawsuit, Taylor was brought to that cell on Sept. 6 and was locked in it until Sept. 10.
On Sept. 11, Taylor’s abuse did not end and he was moved to a “seclusion cell” that didn’t have a toilet, water fountain, or bed, but did have a drain in the floor where he was told to defecate, according to the lawsuit.
Taylor alleged that the floor drain was clogged, leaving raw sewage on the floor. The drain smelled strongly of ammonia, which made it hard for Taylor to breathe. Yet, he alleged, the defendants repeatedly told him that if he needed to urinate, he had to do so in the clogged drain instead of being escorted to the restroom. Taylor refused.
He worried that, because the drain was clogged, his urine would spill onto the already-soiled floor, where he had to sleep because he lacked a bed. So, he held his urine for twenty-four hours before involuntarily urinating on himself. He stayed in the seclusion cell until September 13. Prison officials then tried to return him to his first, feces- covered cell, but he objected and was permitted to stay in a different cell.
This is quite literally torture and de facto violation of Taylor’s constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with all of this, however, it granted summary judgment for the officers, finding that while Taylor’s Eight Amendment rights were violated, the guards were entitled to qualified immunity because they didn’t have “fair warning” that “their specific actions were unconstitutional.”
In other words, because throwing a mentally ill man into a feces filled cell for 6 days was not “clearly established” as a violation of the constitution, the cops were granted immunity.
“The law wasn’t clearly established,” the Court ruled, basing their decision on the length of time permissible to submit a prisoner to such conditions. “Taylor stayed in his extremely dirty cells for only six days. Though the law was clear that prisoners couldn’t be housed in cells teeming with human waste for months on end, we hadn’t previously held that a time period so short violated the Constitution. That dooms Taylor’s claim.”
Imagine the type of person it takes to think that is acceptable. Then, imagine it happened multiple times as Taylor and his attorneys fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
When the case went before the Supreme Court, finally, reason and logic prevailed and the officers were denied qualified immunity in November of this year.
“No reasonable correctional officer could have concluded that, under the extreme circumstances of this case, it was constitutionally permissible to house Taylor in such deplorably unsanitary conditions for such an extended period of time,” the ruling said. “Although an officer-by-officer analysis will be necessary on remand, the record suggests that at least some officers involved in Taylor’s ordeal were deliberately indifferent to the conditions of his cells.“
Justice Clarence Thomas — who somehow thought that the cops should have immunity for what they did — was the single dissenting voice in the ruling and recently appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett abstained.
“First and foremost, we’re so grateful that Mr. Taylor is going to have the opportunity to continue his fight to vindicate his constitutional rights in the courts,” Elizabeth Cruikshank, one of Taylor’s attorneys, said. “We are also really pleased with the broader implications of this decision. The Supreme Court has been really expanding the doctrine of qualified immunity over recent years. And so this is sort of an unusual case in which the Supreme Court said that conduct had really gone too far to qualify to get qualified immunity. And so we think that this decision will hopefully help ensure that other people who are like Mr. Taylor will have the opportunity to vindicate their rights.”