According to a CNN news report, a former Georgia detention officer is facing charges after allegedly exerting excessive force on a female detainee who was in handcuffs. The former officer has been fired, and the case is ongoing.

About the Case

The United States Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, Georgia, has indicted former correctional officer Monique Clark for strangling a female inmate at a prison in Fulton County, Georgia, while the inmate was restrained. The inmate was handcuffed when Clark assaulted her. Clark allegedly strangled the female inmate to the point where she required emergency medical treatment.

Legal Analysis

Corrections officers are not allowed to use gratuitous force against an inmate who is already restrained. In Young v. Martin, 801 F.3d 172 (3d Cir. 2015), the Court of Appeals held that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether prison guards violated the Eighth Amendment by securing a mentally ill prisoner in a four-point restraint chair, naked, for fourteen hours. The court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that prison officials subjected him to a substantial risk of physical harm and unnecessary pain, given the tightness of the restraints, the length of time restrained, his nakedness, the cold air blowing on him, and his inability to hold his own weight once released. See Johnston v. Wetzel, 431 F. Supp. 3d 666 (W.D. Pa. 2019) (holding prisoner’s deprivations departed significantly from the normal hardships of prison life and thus triggered a protected liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment).

In Dean v. Jones, 984 F.3d 295, 304–05 (4th Cir. 2021), the court held a correctional officer may not use gratuitous or punitive force against an inmate who has already been subdued. “[It is] well-established … that officers may not use gratuitous force against a prisoner who has already been subdued … [or] incapacitated.” See Thompson v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 878 F.3d 89 (4th Cir. 2017) (when officers do use force – including pepper spray – against a formerly recalcitrant inmate after he has been subdued, then a reasonable jury may infer that the force was applied not for protective reasons but instead to retaliate or punish.); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225 (4th Cir. 2008) (holding that deployment of pepper spray after inmate is lying on the floor restrained may give rise to inference that force was not employed protectively); Brooks v. Johnson, 924 F.3d 104 (4th Cir. 2019) (holding that improper motive could be inferred in part from fact that inmate was subjected to taser shocks while “handcuffed and surrounded by officers”). See also Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 326, 328–29 (3d Cir. 2009); Young v. Martin, 801 F.3d 172 (3d Cir. 2015) (discussing use of the force in regard to restrained prisoners).

The corrections officer was clearly not allowed to strangle the inmate while she was restrained. She should sue for excessive force.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.