Former Florida Department of Corrections Officer Michael Riley Jr. Indicted for Beating and Murdering Inmates at the Lake Correctional Institution
If you or a loved one suffered abuse, beatings, or if you lost a loved one due to violence perpetrated by a Lake Correctional Institution Corrections Officer, you or your loved one might be able to file a lawsuit to recover a financial award. Parker Waichman LLP is a plaintiffs’ law firm that fights for maximum compensation on behalf of clients injured or killed by others’ willful and negligent actions.
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Investigative News Report Exposes the Horrific Abuse and Murder Perpetrated by One Former Florida Department of Corrections Officer Michael Riley Jr.
According to an important investigative news report by Christina Saint Louis with MiamiHerald.com, former Florida Department of Corrections Officer Michael Riley Jr. has been indicted and charged with the fatal beating of a Lake Correctional Institution inmate. The news report states that Michael Riley Jr. has a lengthy history of committing violence against Lake Correctional Institution prisoners. However, former Florida Department of Corrections Officer Michael Riley Jr. was able to continue working at the Lake Correctional Institution for nearly two years.
The news report states that the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested Michael Riley Jr., and he is facing a charge of second-degree murder. According to Michael Riley Jr.’s indictment for second-degree murder, Mr. Riley brutally attacked Christopher Howell, a 51 inmate at Lake Correctional Institution, and beat the victim to death on June 18, 2020. The news report also alleges that Mr. Riley was involved in at least 22 use-of-force incidents during the ten months leading up to the murder of Christopher Howell. According to the Florida Department of Corrections Office of Inspector General, two of the violent actions perpetrated by Mr. Riley were “out of compliance with use-of-force procedures” under Florida Administrative Rule: 33-602.210 and Florida State Statute 944.35.
Lake Correctional is one of the most ill-famed prison facilities in Florida’s broken prison system. Lake Correctional has a history of “savage beatings” of inmates executed by correction officers. Months before the murder of Mr. Howell, a video on YouTube surfaced by prisoners desperate to prove the extensive acts of violence committed by corrections officers upon defenseless inmates.
The Florida Department of Corrections asserted that Mr. Howell’s murder was an “isolated incident.” However, the Florida Department of Corrections incident reports shows allegations of unlawful use-of-force across all its prisons have been steadily increasing, while the population of prisoners in Florida’s prison system has been declining.
According to the MiamiHerald.com news report, the Florida Department of Corrections refused to respond to the reporter’s questions about Mr. Riley’s disciplinary record. The Florida Department of Corrections stated the department has a “zero tolerance” policy toward prison staff abusing prisons. However, Mr. Riley was not terminated until the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested him. The news report alleges that Mr. Riley was on administrative leave until Mr. Riley was arrested and charged with murder.
High Court Vacates Immunity In Prison Guard Case
February 23, 2021 – A news posted on law360.com reports that the Supreme Court of the United States vacated a Fifth Circuit decision that gave immunity to a Texas corrections officer who purportedly sprayed mace into the face of an inmate in 2016, citing a November ruling that found prison officers liable for clearly egregious and unconstitutional conduct.
Granting certiorari to Prince McCoy Sr., the U.S. Supreme Court directed the Fifth Circuit to reconsider its February 2020 ruling that granted qualified immunity to Tajudeen Alamu, a Darrington Unit Officer. The justices instructed the circuit court to reconsider “in light of” Taylor v. Riojas, a recent and rare qualified immunity reversal.
In Taylor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a group of corrections officers at the Montford Psychiatric Unit in Lubbock, Texas, should not have been deemed immune from prosecution when the officers kept inmate Trent Taylor in a cell covered in human excrement back in 2013. The purported acts were clearly unconstitutional, and courts do not need a case with comparable circumstances to proceed, the justices found.
McCoy’s legal team and supporters were pleased with the decision. Monday’s vacatur confirms that the precedent enforced in Taylor is having a more widespread impact on how the U.S. Supreme Court applies its own principle of qualified immunity, which restricts civil rights lawsuits brought against government officials.
Attorney Elizabeth Cruikshank is a managing associate at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and board member at Rights Behind Bars, which represents McCoy. Attorney Cruikshank also assisted in representing Mr. Taylor before the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
According to Attorney Cruikshank, the Taylor opinion thrilled the legal team and their client and might signal a shift in the approach the Supreme Court handles qualified immunity. She also stated that the McCoy vacatur might indicate that the court is backing off the requirement that plaintiffs present the court with a “perfect one-to-one parallel to a case before they could overcome qualified immunity.”
Mr. McCoy began his court battle back in 2017 when he filed a pro se complaint in the Southern District of Texas detailing allegations of excessive force in violation of his Eighth Amendment civil rights.
According to the court records, Corrections Officer Alamu sprayed McCoy, who has asthma, directly in the face with mace at the facility in Rosharon, Texas. Officer Alamu was taking his frustrations out on McCoy when another inmate splashed the officer with water multiple times.
The district court ruled in favor of Alamu, ruling that McCoy did not establish that the purported assault was malicious or excessive and that his injuries were minor.
McCoy appealed the district court’s decision before the Fifth Circuit, which found Officer Alamu had qualified immunity because the officers’ alleged actions did not meet all of the Hudson Factors for cruel and unusual punishment.
In Hudson v. McMillian, an inmate in Louisiana alleged that he was beaten by two correctional officers while incarcerated. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on the 1992 case and established a five-part test to ascertain when the use of force becomes cruel and unusual punishment when the victim has not been seriously injured.
McCoy subsequently retained nonprofit legal counsel to assist him in his July certiorari petition. A certiorari petition petitions an appellate court to give the petitioner a writ of certiorari. This kind of petition ordinarily argues that a lower court errantly decided a substantial question of law and that the lower court’s mistake should be correct to prevent confusion in comparable cases.
In his certiorari petition, McCoy concentrated his argument on Fifth Circuit Judge Gregg Costa’s dissenting opinion where Judge Costa argued that his colleagues placed too much importance on the shortage of case law concerning accusations of a pepper spray attack. Judge Costa stated that had McCoy been hit in the face for no reason or tased for no reason, instead of being maced in the face without reason, the on-point circuit precedent would have clearly confirmed the constitutional violation.
McCoy petition argued that as Judge Costa told in his dissent, an alternative description for the panel majority’s break from this court’s precedent was that Alamu’s unprovoked attack simply included the wrong type of weapon.
This is mistaken reasoning is what created a circuit split, according to McCoy’s petition. The petition stated that “there is no requirement that a constitutional violation is weapon-specific” and “defining Eighth Amendment violations weapon-by-weapon and granting qualified immunity to defendants using novel weaponry would also break from the other circuits that have considered the question.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office opposed and dismissed McCoy’s petition stating that the petition was an unadorned appeal for fact-bound error correction and that the lower court applied the Hudson factors in the correct form.
However, the Supreme Court Justices did not discuss Hudson on Monday, but instead focused on the precedent regarding the alleged egregious unconstitutional use of force in Taylor.
Praising the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday, Attorney Sam Weiss of Rights Behind Bars, McCoy’s co-counsel, said that the decision proves that Taylor was not a one-off and that the Supreme Court’s specific reference to Taylor “is giving a strong nudge as to what the Fifth Circuit should do in this case.”
A Texas Attorney General’s Office representative did not promptly reply to a request for comment.
The case is McCoy, Prince v. Alamu, Tajudeen, case number 20-31, in the Supreme Court of the United States.
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