A federal court has warned an Arapahoe County Sheriff’s deputy against joking about an inmate’s sexuality and allowed legal action against him for apparently retaliating after the inmate complained.
U.S. investigating magistrate S. Kato Crews determined that Christopher B. Harker, an inmate awaiting trial at the Arapahoe County Detention Center, likely alleged MP William Neyhart retaliated by depriving Harker of toilet paper after filing a grievance regarding the MP’s homophobic comment.
The grievance was based on an incident that occurred on October 22, 2020 in the detention center. As Harker sang in his cell, Neyhart walked into the accommodation and shouted, “I knew you were gay!
Harker identified himself as LGBTQ in his federal complaint. The sheriff’s office investigated but reportedly discovered the comment was made “in a pleasant manner.” The teams indicated that while the comment was in fact a joke, it wasn’t a laughing matter.
“The Court does not agree with the defendant’s qualification of his statement as a mere insult,” the investigating judge wrote in an August 31 order. He cited the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act as evidence that Congress intended to take sexual assault behind bars seriously.
“[L]Calling an inmate homosexual is no joke in the detention environment, as the defendant suggests, ”Crews explained. “Like a prison guard labeling an inmate as a snitch or a pedophile, labeling an inmate as gay could indeed raise a serious risk of harm.”
He pointed to a 1995 District of Columbia court decision in which a federal judge ruled that “one can think of few acts which could be more likely to result in physical injury than to spread rumors of homosexuality. ” in prison.
Although Harker alleged that the MP’s conduct violated his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, Crews concluded that Harker failed to establish that Neyhart was deliberately indifferent to his safety. There was no credible claim that Neyhart had singled out Harker with his commentary and, therefore, no indication that Neyhart knew he was broadcasting Harker’s sexuality.
However, Crews allowed Harker’s second claim against Neyhart: that the deputy retaliated against Harker for complaining about his remark by allegedly depriving Harker of toilet paper and forcing Harker to use his underwear.
It was reasonable, Crews determined, to believe that Neyhart was aware of the complaint against him when he allegedly failed to give Harker toilet paper. Therefore, it is possible that he retaliated against Harker for exercising his First Amendment right to grieve.
“[T]Court concludes that denying an inmate toilet paper and forcing him to use his own clothes instead is an injury that would prevent a person of ordinary firmness from bringing further grievances, ”Crews wrote, giving the green light to the prisoner. discovery of new evidence.
Neyhart, in a response filed with the court on Thursday, admitted to making the comment about Harker’s singing. He did not address the toilet paper allegations in his motion to dismiss, but argued in court that Harker suffered no actual injuries and, even if he did, that “injuries and damage … Harker’s own conduct. “
The case is Harker versus Neyhart.