People For the American Way

Britt Grant Gives Immunity to Violent Jail Employee’s Supervisors: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

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Britt Grant Gives Immunity to Violent Jail Employee’s Supervisors: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears
Britt Grant

Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.

Eleventh Circuit Judge Britt Grant was the deciding vote in yet another case in which Trump judges granted law enforcement officials immunity from excessive violence lawsuits. In February’s Quinette v. Reed, a divided panel ruled that a prison guard’s supervisors could not be sued by the man he accosted, even though they had known of the officer’s propensity toward violence.

Having just been arrested, Dennis Quinette was standing at the door of the county jail’s intake cell at the county jail, hoping to get someone’s attention so he could make a phone call. As alleged by Quinette, officer Dilmus Reed closed the door on him rather than help. As the door was closing, Quinette put his hand on the door window. Reed then reopened the door and, without warning, shoved Quinette to the floor with both hands, throwing him so hard that he broke Quinette’s hip. Reed walked out of the cell but reentered after about a minute and tried to drag the injured man to his feet, eliciting howls of pain. Reed’s response was to berate Quinette, accusing the detained man of having tried to “rush” him. Quinette sued Reed for committing the attack, and all the judges agreed that he did not have qualified immunity.

Quinette also sued Reed’s supervisors for letting him stay on the job despite having known of his propensity for unnecessary and excessive violence. Judge Grant was part of the majority granting those supervisors immunity from lawsuit because they had investigated multiple allegations of violence beforehand and had reprimanded Reed in writing for the two incidents that were substantiated. Both times, they had required that Reed undergo training in not violently attacking those in his charge. They had also given him a one-day suspension for misleading officers during an investigation, and a two-day suspension for favoring some inmates over others. For Judge Grant, that meant there could not be any causal connection between action (or inaction) by the supervisors and Reed’s subsequent acts of violence.

Judge Charles Wilson dissented, setting forth the long list of red flags the supervisors were aware of but did not address, including internal investigations into Reed’s violence in 2005, 2006, and 2009 (the latter two of which had been caught on video). They reviewed the records of those investigations in 2014, when Reed was under an internal affairs investigation into his pattern of using “racial epithets, profanity, and threats towards inmates” and his “continued propensity to los[e] his temper with inmates.” The next year, they reviewed his record yet again because Reed was subject to yet another internal investigation, this time for favoritism among inmates and other violations of policy.

Judge Wilson explained that as alleged by the victim, Reed’s supervisors “knew of the danger that Reed presented and took no action to appropriately supervise or discipline him,” comparable to other cases where the court ruled there was no qualified immunity.