The federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has dropped former Faulkner County Sheriff Karl Byrd from a lawsuit filed against Byrd and a number of county jail administrators.
The lawsuit stems from a jail riot in 2010 in which, according to the prisoner plaintiffs in the lawsuit, guards tossed a flash-bang grenade into a cell where the five plaintiffs say they were peacefully cooperating with the guards’ orders, then rushed in and shot two of the prisoners with “beanbag” less-lethal ammunition.
The door was accidentally jammed closed by a towel used to stop water from coming into the cell, according to the prisoner plaintiffs (the riot started with intentional flooding of toilet water from another cell). According to jailors, it seemed at the time like an intentional barricading.
The guards and Byrd, who was sheriff at the time, were all sued in their individual capacity (defendants alleged to have violated constitutional rights “under color of law” can be sued in their official or individual capacities). A lower court denied FCSO’s motion for summary judgment for all defendants. That decision was affirmed in part by the court of appeals opinion issued on Thursday.
To be liable for the alleged violation of inmates’ rights, the opinion reads, Byrd would have had to be at the jail and involved in the alleged “cruel and unusual punishment.” He wasn’t, and so should be dropped as a defendant.
The lawsuit will continue to move through the federal District Court system with regard to the guards.
FCSO has claimed in hearings through its attorney, Jason Owens of the Rainwater & Hold firm, that during the riot inmates in other cells had tried to fashion jailhouse weapons out of cabinet and bed parts, and that given that there were multiple inmates in the eight-by-eight-foot cell and guards have to “converge with sufficient numbers to make sure that they’re not overwhelmed,” the use of the flash-bang grenate and “beanbag” ammunition was not an excessive force.
“Certainly what they encountered before, including the barricaded door, plays into the analysis of their state of mind and what level of force they can use,” Owens said. “…There’s not case that has ever said when you’re entering a darkened pod [a term for the cell in question] with multiple inmates that’s been barricaded, and you’ve got to rush in instantaneously with several jailers, that you can’t throw in some kind of device to disorientate them . . . to give them some time to respond to whatever they’re facing in this kind of unknown situation.”