Lawsuit says state officials knowingly allowed an inmate to be assaulted on leading to multiple hospitalizations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 16, 2014
LINCOLN - Today the ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Mr. Joshua Franklin against the Department of Corrections Director Mr. Michael Kenney, three wardens and an assistant warden. The lawsuit alleges state officials repeatedly and knowingly allowed Mr. Franklin to be assaulted by other inmates leading to multiple emergency room trips and at least three hospitalizations. This lawsuit follows months of investigation by the ACLU into constitutional violations present in Nebraska's prison system.
Mr. Franklin, a biracial man serving time for non-violent offenses, was awaiting sentencing in the Sarpy County Jail when first assaulted by another inmate who is a member of a white supremacist group. Mr. Franklin reported the situation to Department of Corrections officials when he was moved to state custody. State officials repeatedly failed to follow their own procedures which would have prevented additional contact between Mr. Franklin and his assailant. This failure to act and to follow procedures led to three additional assaults at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. These assaults lead to a series of injuries: an orbital fracture, a detached retina, a head injury, memory loss and vision problems. Mr. Franklin still suffers from the vision and memory problems along with anxiety and nightmares. The lawsuit cites repeated written pleas for help by Mr. Franklin to state officials that were met with only empty promises to keep him safe.
“Our prison system isn’t working,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “There are smarter ways to use tax-payer dollars in Nebraska that also keep our communities safe and treat people fairly. The ACLU has interviewed dozens of individuals in Nebraska correctional facilities. All of the state prisons were over capacity when officials failed to maintain order. Mr. Franklin's assaults occurred in the penitentiary, which was over 175 percent of capacity at the time of the attacks. Our investigations have shown consistently that with such overcrowding, even competent personnel and reasonable procedures will become ineffective.”
“Mr. Franklin filed multiple complaints to inform prison officials of the danger he faced,” said Eric W. Kruger, who filed the case as a trial attorney working with the ACLU of Nebraska. “Like many of the individuals we’ve interviewed, Mr. Franklin has suffered because Nebraska’s correctional facilities were unable to follow their own guidelines for maintaining order.”
In addition to this case, the ACLU of Nebraska is investigating additional individual complaints about constitutional violations in Nebraska prisons and exploring systemic litigation strategies. The ACLU of Nebraska is working in a cooperative posture with Nebraska policymakers to address these issues in the legislative arena. Additional areas of concern include the overcrowding crisis, overuse of solitary confinement, and inadequate access to mental health treatment. Reports from the Nebraska Ombudsman’s Office, the Nebraska Legislature, and the Council on State Governments have raised similar concerns about Nebraska’s prison system.