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Judge preserves claims against prison officials in 2013 inmate beating

A federal lawsuit against prison officials by a man who was assaulted by correctional officers in 2013 can proceed, a federal judge has ruled.

Kevin Younger was assaulted by several officers at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostics & Classification Center (MRDCC) in Baltimore the day after he witnessed other inmates assaulting an officer.

Because he had been present, Younger was segregated, as were those implicated in the attack. Believing Younger had been involved, Sgt. Kwasi Ramsey, Sgt. Jemiah Green and Officer Richard Hanna attacked him.

Younger sued the state, warden and correctional officers in U.S. District Court in September 2016, but the state and former department secretary were dismissed because they had to be sued in state court. A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury awarded Younger $2.7 million — later reduced to $200,000 under a damages cap — in his case against the state in June. The verdict is on appeal.

The federal case was stayed during the state proceedings but resumed after the verdict. The acting warden of the facility, Tyrone Crowder, along with Major Wallace Singletary and Lt. Neil Dupree moved to dismiss the case in August. U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett denied the motions Tuesday, finding that Younger alleged sufficient facts to support his constitutional and state tort claims.

Attorney Allen Honick said Bennett’s opinion is “strong” and gives him and co-counsel David Daneman faith that Bennett understands their position on the case, but he called it an “academic victory” that is meaningless to Younger, who still has not received any compensation for his injuries.

“It doesn’t give any peace, comfort or solace to Mr. Younger and, more importantly, it doesn’t put any money in his pocket so he can put this past him,” said Honick, of Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP in Baltimore.

Younger alleged that his assault was part of a pattern of inmate abuse and “vigilante justice” fostered by the defendants, according to the opinion. The three officers who assaulted Younger had been suspected of using excessive force previously and Crowder specifically is accused of ignoring staff warnings about Green and Ramsey, according to the opinion. Dupree was required to prepare reports about correctional staff under investigation and Singletary allegedly observed at least one incident of excessive force, the opinion stated.

On Sept. 30, 2013, Hanna arrived at MRDCC and met Ramsey, who informed him “they had some business to handle” and planned to “exact revenge on the prisoners” believed to have been involved in the assault on an officer, according to the opinion. Green joined them and they went to the armory, where they obtained handcuffs and mace.

The three officers moved to the housing unit and “systematically moved about MRDCC” to five prisoners’ cells, “brutally assaulting and beating each of the prisoners,” according to the opinion. Dupree and Singletary had displayed photos of the injured officer and the inmates linked to the attack during roll call that morning and Crowder had allegedly encouraged officers to beat inmates after the officer was injured.

Dupree observed Younger being taken toward the medical unit and Ramsey informed him that he “fell.” Crowder was aware that Younger had assisted the injured officer the day before, but Younger still faced administrative charges and spent four months in solitary confinement and was also charged criminally, charges that were later dismissed.

Bennett found that the state court verdict does not preclude Younger’s claims against the remaining defendants and rejected the argument that Younger had failed to allege malice or gross negligence in relation to the state tort claims, calling the defense argument “meritless.”

“Younger has at the very least alleged that the Defendants acted with gross negligence by intentionally failing to perform their most basic duties with reckless disregard for the consequences to Younger’s safety,” Bennett wrote. “The Complaint both generally alleges that Crowder, Dupree, and Singletary sanctioned and encouraged an environment which perpetuated widespread inmate abuse and cites specific incidents in which the three abandoned their responsibilities to the detriment of MRDCC inmates.”

Bennett also found Younger had alleged facts to support his state and federal constitutional claims that, as supervisors, the defendants were indifferent to or tacitly authorized the conduct of the officers.

Crowder allegedly “not only demonstrated an ‘inadequate response’ to his inferior officer’s behavior, but expressly sanctioned it and encouraged it” and Dupree and Singletary are similarly alleged to have had knowledge of a pattern of retribution, according to the opinion.

The case is Kevin Younger v. Jemiah L. Green, 1:16-cv-03269.

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