Fighting For Your Rights

Attorney Taubes Defeats Qualified Immunity – Twice

On Behalf of | Jul 3, 2022 | Firm News |

In a series of landmark rulings released in June, federal judges denied summary judgment to a police officer and a prison warden based on their arguments that they were protected by qualified immunity. Attorney Taubes represented the plaintiffs, victims of police brutality and prison abuse, in the two cases, and defeated the officers’ motions for summary judgment, which would have dismissed the cases.

“When the government breaks the law it has a duty to uphold, the government must be held accountable,” Attorney Taubes said. “If the government cannot be taken to court when it breaks the law and needlessly violates our rights, then we are all in danger. These important rulings are reminders of the safeguards that still exist in our constitutional republic when officers violate the law.”

On June 10, United States District Judge Alvin W. Thompson of the District of Connecticut denied summary judgment to officer Michael Barrett of the Bloomfield Police Department in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Barrett tased Attorney Taubes’s client in the face after he was put in handcuffs and unable to move. While he tased Attorney Taubes’s client in the face, the officer can be heard on video camera yelling, “what now, motherfucker?”

Rejecting the officers’ qualified immunity defense, Judge Thompson reminded the Town of Bloomfield’s attorneys:

Under Second Circuit law, use of a taser is not warranted when an arrestee is handcuffed and not resisting officers. . . . Therefore, the right at issue here, i.e. the right for an arrestee to be free from the use of significant force by an officer, including tasing, when restrained and not actively resisting, was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the challenged conduct.

See Farmer v. Barrett, No. 3:19-CV-1950 (AWT), 2022 WL 2105843, at *6 (D. Conn. June 10, 2022) (citations omitted).
On June 30, United States District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant of the District of Connecticut denied summary judgment to Nicole Thibeault, former Deputy Warden at Osborn Correctional Institution in Enfield, Connecticut during a COVID outbreak at the prison in which hundreds of prisoners were infected and many died.
Thibeault forced prison laundry workers to work without adequate Personal Protective Equipment (“PPE”) and to live in filthy cells in a unit filled with sick inmates in April 2020, after the dangers of COVID-19 were already known within the facility. The laundry workers pleaded for PPE and to stay in the unit where they had been living, but Thibeault and her subordinates threatened them with lost privileges and solitary confinement if they failed to comply.
After being forced into dangerous quarters and to work without PPE, nearly all of the prison laundry workers got COVID. One of them got so severely sick that he was transferred to Northern Correctional Institution, a maximum security punishment jail, where he had a heart attack while suffering from COVID, and nearly died–just months before his release from more than a decade of incarceration.
The State of Connecticut, represented by Attorney General William Tong’s office, had argued that the Deputy Warden’s actions were protected by qualified immunity because of the “unique and challenging situation” presented by COVID. The federal court rejected the Attorney General’s argument:

The Court disagrees with the Defendant. The Second Circuit has held that correctional officials have an affirmative obligation to protect inmates from infectious disease.Even at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, a reasonable official would have realized that Covid-19 is a serious infectious disease from which prison officials had a duty to protect inmates.

See Nazario v. Thibeault, No. 3:21-CV-216-VLB, 2022 WL 2358504, at *8 (D. Conn. June 30, 2022) (citations omitted). After rejecting the Attorney General’s other argument, that the Deputy Warden had no obligation to provide PPE because she was not a medical doctor, the court noted, “[o]nce the laundry workers requested additional PPE, [she] had a duty to look into whether that PPE was necessary to ensure the laundry workers’ safety.” Id. at *7.

With motions for summary judgment denied in both cases, both cases are now headed toward trial, unless the parties reach a settlement.