US Supreme Court rules prison guards in Lubbock can be sued for leaving prisoner in filthy conditions

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The Supreme Court is seen as morning fog lingers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

LUBBOCK, Texas — The United States Supreme Court on Monday ruled that prison guards at the Montford Unit in Lubbock do not necessarily have “qualified immunity” for leaving a prisoner in filthy conditions for several days.

Warning: the details that follow will be difficult for some readers.

The US Supreme Court noted in its opinion, in September 2013, TDCJ inmate Trent Taylor said that for six full days, correctional officers at the Montford Unit in Lubbock put him in a cell that was covered, nearly floor to ceiling, in “massive amounts of feces.” Furthermore, Taylor said the feces were “all over the floor, the ceiling, the window, the walls and even “‘packed inside the water faucet.’”

Taylor said he feared his food and water would be contaminated. He said he did not drink for nearly four days.

Then, correctional officers moved Taylor to another cell, which was equipped with only a clogged drain in the floor to “dispose of bodily wastes.”

Court records said Taylor held his bladder for over 24 hours, but he eventually relieved himself, causing the drain to overflow with raw sewage spilling across the floor.

Taylor was left without a bunk, according to court records, and “confined without clothing.” He was left to sleep naked in the sewage.

SCOTUS ruled that Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit properly held that “prisoners couldn’t be housed in cells teeming with human waste for only six days.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that while Taylor’s Eighth Amendment rights were violated, the prison guards could still get qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity is a legal term, which as described in the ruling, provides protection for government officials who fall short of protecting constitutional rights but made reasonable decisions or “reasonably” misapprehended the law.

The ruling on Monday reverses the Fifth Circuit and takes away qualified immunity for prison guards in one particular case based in Lubbock. Basically, it means the prison guards can be sued.

The case will be sent back to federal court in Lubbock for further proceedings.

Brand new Associate Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barret took no part in the decision. Justice Samuel Alito agreed in the judgement but disagreed that this was the right case to revisit the issue. Alito said the facts of the case have not yet been proven in a civil trial and there are other procedural legal issues he raised.

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