Beaten inmate sues state for keeping half of legal award

HARTFORD  — A Connecticut inmate is fighting the state in federal court after officials were ordered to pay him $300,000 in a lawsuit over a beating he took from another prisoner, but gave him less than half the total after subtracting costs of his incarceration.

Rashad Williams, serving a 30-year sentence for attempted murder and other crimes, says officials basically used a state law on recouping imprisonment costs from inmates to reduce the penalty for violating his civil rights. His lawyer, J. Tyler Butts, said the state’s move violated federal civil rights law and blunted the law’s goal of deterring human rights abuses.

“The State has gone to significant lengths to attempt to reduce its liability and to deny Mr. Williams full compensation for his damages,” Butts wrote in a court document, accusing officials of “a pattern of behavior demonstrating the State’s clear disregard” for Williams’ rights.

Butts and state officials declined to comment for this story.

In court documents, state officials wrote Williams cannot legally seek the remainder of the lawsuit award and the state has not waived its immunity from his court action.

Butts argues the U.S. Constitution invalidates state laws that interfere with federal law, which applies in Williams’ case.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut agrees with Williams.

“Effectively what they’re doing is using state law to get themselves off the hook for a federal law violation,” said Dan Barrett, legal director for the ACLU chapter. “It would violate federal law for the Correction Department to effectively discount the judgment it or its employees have to pay by claiming the prisoner has to pay for the cost of his incarceration.”

To make matters worse for Williams, the state now is seeking more than $50,000 from him to pay public defender costs and other expenses. Officials have frozen $65,000 in his inmate trust account.
Williams, 42, of East Hartford, was convicted of attempted murder, assault and other crimes in 2004 in connection with a botched car wash robbery in New Britain. The robbers and victims got into a shootout, killing one of the robbers and injuring a victim.

In 2010, Williams and a violent gang member were placed in a cell together at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, despite Williams’ objection. According to court documents, handcuffs were taken off the gang member first and he kicked and stomped Williams while Williams was still handcuffed. Williams suffered injuries to his head, back, ankle and knee.

Williams sued prison officials in federal court, where a jury determined a prison guard, Capt. Dennis Marinelli, violated Williams’ rights by having him placed in the same cell as the gang member. Williams was awarded $300,000.

Most states have laws allowing prisoners to be charged for incarceration costs. Connecticut law allows the state to take up to half of any legal award or settlement inmates receive, as well as certain property they own. The state collected nearly $4.8 million from inmates in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Cases like Williams’ are not common, defense lawyers say. In a similar case in Missouri cited by Williams, a federal judge ruled in 1991 that the state could not take $3,000 awarded to a prisoner who was sexually harassed by a prison teacher. The ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court.

Williams’ request for the remainder of his legal award is before a federal judge in Hartford.