Seventh Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment In Favor of Corrections Officers Who Responded Reasonably to Inmate-on-Inmate Violence

July 24, 2018

The Seventh Circuit issued an opinion on July 10, 2018, which affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of all defendants, correctional officers Tobek, Meehan, and Mayo, in Giles v. Tobek, Case No. 17-1707.

Plaintiff Giles was a federal pretrial detainee at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, Illinois. He was housed on the same tier as inmate Moore. Moore’s reputation for starting fights was so extreme that jail staff allowed Moore out of his cell only when no other inmates were free. When the incident occurred, correctional officer Tobek initially knew Moore was out of his cell in the “day room,” but then forgot that Moore was still free and released the other inmates from their cells. Roughly 2 minutes later, Tobek realized that Moore was still free and ordered Moore to “lock up.” Officer Meehan was with Tobek and witnessed this exchange. Moore said “okay Tobek,” and started walking towards his cell, only to suddenly change course, charge up the stairs, and begin punching Giles’ cellmate. Giles jumped into the fight to defend his cellmate, and Moore then began attacking Giles. Tobek called for backup. The responding officers, which included officer Mayo, and officer Meehan, then physically began separating the inmates. Moore kept fighting, bit Giles, and would not let go, so he was Tasered. That ended the fray. Giles suffered two small scars from the bite and claimed psychological injuries.

The Seventh Circuit’s opinion boils down to ruling that while the defendants (especially Tobek) might have acted negligently, no reasonable jury could find that they were deliberately indifferent to inmate-on-inmate violence. Giles argued that Tobek’s actions of letting the other inmates out while Moore was still free demonstrated such deliberate indifference, but Seventh Circuit recognized that nothing in the record “implied that her actions were deliberate, malicious, or reckless,” instead of a negligent mistake. Next, Giles took issue with Tobek merely ordering Moore back to his cell once she realized he was unrestrained in the company of other inmates rather than taking more aggressive measures. The Seventh Circuit ruled that while escorting Moore to his cell might have been a better choice, Tobek was exercising her authority and acting to alleviate the risk of harm, and, moreover, that she saw Moore begin complying. Meehan saw that exchange and reasonably could have believed that Tobek’s actions were sufficient. Finally, despite Giles’ complaints about how the officers broke up the fight, the Seventh Circuit recognized that all the defendants “acted swiftly” and restored order “in just a few minutes.” The mere possibility that the defendants could have responded even faster did not show the deliberate indifference Giles’ claim requires. Thus, summary judgment was affirmed. Mike Condon and David Mathues represented the defendants; appointed counsel from Jenner & Block represented the plaintiff. David Mathues argued the case on June 6, 2018.

Giles v. Tobeck

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