Guards Not Liable for Leaving Pedophile Alone in Prison Yard
There's that old joke, right? The "you know what they do to guys like that in prison" truism.
Well, David Karl Danser, who was convicted of sexually abusing his 9-year-old daughter, then taking photographs and sharing them with others, was put in the SHU (Special Housing Unit, aka protective custody) at a minimum security prison. SHU inmates are given the choice of outdoor recreation in 10-by-10-foot cages, usually with another inmate or two. Inmates are screened against separation orders, which are based on past conflict and probability of a violent encounter.
There were no red flags between Danser and his attacker. Yet, he ended up in the hospital with broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, punctured lungs, and a few other assorted injuries after a guard broke protocol and left him and the other inmates unattended. Sounds suspicious, right? But fortunately for the prison staff, qualified immunity applies.
Nobody Knows You're a Pedo 😉
A huge part of the reason why the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of immunity was a lack of a culpable mindset by the "negligent" prison guard. While he definitely broke the rules by walking away and leaving the inmates unattended, that was negligence, not a violation of a constitutionally protected right.
More importantly, there was no proof that he knew of Danser's sex offender status -- though he did have access to databases that would include such information. Wink. Nod. Totally didn't know. Hell, Google his name and you find out more than you ever wanted to know about Danser's abuse of his daughter.
Need More Proof
The first prong in qualified immunity analysis under Saucier is whether the undisputed facts show that the government official's acts violated the inmate's constitutional rights.
Had the guard known about Danser's sex offender status, and by extension, the obvious danger of leaving him in the yard with an inmate (who allegedly remarked on Danser's past during the beating), that might have sufficed for a deliberate indifference claim.
But wink, nod, he totally could have found this out doesn't suffice for proof that the guard ignored a known danger.
"Because the record lacks any evidence that Boyd [the guard] knew that Gustin [Danser's attacker] posed a particular danger to Danser, the record as a matter of law fails to show that Boyd must have appreciated that his act of leaving Danser and Gustin together in an unsupervised area created an excessive risk to Danser's safety on that basis," the Fourth Circuit held.
"Accordingly, although Boyd may well have been negligent in his actions, the evidence on which Danser relies fails to show that Boyd acted with deliberate indifference."
- Danser v. Stansberry (Fourth Circuit)
- VA: Photograph Teen's Penis to Get Him Not to Photograph His Penis (FindLaw's U.S. Fourth Circuit Blog)
- McDonnell Verdict Is In: Both Guilty of Nearly All Charges (FindLaw's U.S. Fourth Circuit Blog)