Inmate who claimed CO was 'whistling for the devil' has lawsuit nixed by judge

Haddrick Byrd claimed the CO's chronic whistling "was offensive to his beliefs and disruptive to his prayer"


By Matt Miller
PennLive.com

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A lawsuit filed by a Pennsylvania prison inmate who accused a corrections officer of “whistling for the Devil” has been ruled out of tune by a federal judge.

Haddrick Byrd, a Muslim, claimed in his U.S. Middle District Court suit against the state prison at Frackville that the guard’s chronic whistling “was offensive to his beliefs and disruptive to his prayer.”

He also contended that Muslims “believe that whistling is calling the devil.”

Byrd claimed the guard’s almost constant whistling therefore violated his right to free practice of religion.

Magistrate Judge Karoline Mehalchick and Senior Judge Sylvia H. Rambo disagreed, concluding the officer’s conduct didn’t prevent Byrd from practicing his religion or violate any prison rules. Rambo dismissed Byrd’s suit on Mehalchick’s recommendation.

According to Rambo’s opinion on the case, Byrd contended the officer whistled “constantly” while on duty in his housing unit. Prison officials said the guard whistled only “sporadically,” Rambo noted.

Byrd complained to prison officials, pointing to a ban on whistling cited in the inmate handbook and his contention that the whistling infringed on his religious beliefs and ability to pray. Jail officials told the guard to stop whistling, but Byrd said he kept doing it until he was transferred to another housing unit.

In dismissing the suit, the judges found that “permitting correctional officers to whistle was rationally related to the legitimate government interest in affording them minimal freedoms to cope with stress while performing their work duties.” The ban on whistling applies only to inmates, not to their guards, Rambo found.

It would be “unduly burdensome” to expect prison officials to monitor every corrections officer to ensure they didn’t whistle, Rambo concluded.

In any case, she found the officer’s whistling didn’t prevent Byrd from practicing his religion because Byrd could engage in praying when the whistling guard was off duty.

Byrd, 68, is serving a life sentence for a murder he committed in Philadelphia in 1974.

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(c)2021 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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