Court: Shackled inmate's exercise was cruel punishment
The case now returns to the lower court, where the judge had not yet ruled on an appeal of damages
By Pat Eaton-Robb
SOMERS, Conn. — A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a verdict that found Connecticut's Department of Correction violated the Constitutional rights of an inmate by forcing him to wear full shackles during his outside exercise periods.
A jury had concluded that convicted killer Michael Edwards was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by the department and then-warden Angel Quiros while at the maximum-security Northern Correctional Institution between September 2010 and March 2011.
U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill, citing a lack of evidence, later tossed out that verdict along with a $500,000 judgment against the state and a $250,000 judgment against Quiros, who is now the acting commissioner of the Department of Correction.
In reinstating the verdict, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said testimony by Quiros at the 2018 trial provided sufficient proof for a jury to conclude that he was a hands-on warden who knew about the abuse.
The state had argued that because of crowded prison conditions it didn't have an enclosure where Edwards could exercise without shackles, which consisted of his hands cuffed behind him, leg irons and a tether chain between the cuffs and the leg iron. It argued that Edwards could have exercised in his 7-by-12 foot cell.
Edward's attorney, Stephen Bergstein, said the 2nd Circuit reversal affirms that inmates have a right to exercise outside their cells and could lead to a change in state policy.
“Even people convicted of murder have right to exercise under the Eighth Amendment," Bergstein said. “I know some people are uncomfortable with that because they are inmates, but that's what the courts have said."
The case now returns to the lower court, where the judge had not yet ruled on an appeal of damages.
Edwards is serving a 59-year sentence for murder following the 1995 shooting of an acquaintance after an argument outside a Hartford grocery store.
He was in punitive segregation at Northern in September 2010, following an attack on a correction officer.
The state Attorney General's Office said it was reviewing the ruling and weighing options for its next steps.