AREN’T CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS A FEDERAL MATTER WHEN A STATE REFUSES TO TAKE ACTION?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Dec. 19, 2010) — A few days ago when this writer called the FBI about the corruption in Monroe County, TN, the duty agent who took the call said, “There’s no need to contact us; these are state issues. Contact the TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation).” While his response might not have been typical of other agents, it raises concerns about whether or not the FBI is taking notice of the federal civil rights violations which are taking place daily in Monroe County and other Tennessee counties as well as across the country.
The TBI has been contacted on numerous occasions and has responded that it cannot investigate a judge unless there is approval from the state attorney general. However, the Administrative Office of the Courts has told this writer that the Court of the Judiciary takes complaints against Tennessee judges. It remains to be seen whether or not they will act on such complaints.
The 1950s and 1960s saw extraordinary upheaval in the United States due to the issue of racial segregation, particularly in the South, which prevented certain people from going to school and designated separate areas for “whites” and “coloreds.” Segregation and discrimination were ruled unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, and the modern civil rights era resulted in desegregation of schools and other public places, striking down the policy of “separate but equal.”
The FBI has the authority, as part of the U.S. Department of Justice, to investigate the many cases of reported brutality on the part of sheriff’s deputies, deprivation of medical care, grand juries assembled to produce a particular outcome, and depriving inmates of their mail, all of which are civil rights violations. When judges are knowingly accepting verdicts from tainted juries, controlling the actions of the grand jury and denying defendants access to an attorney, civil rights violations have been committed. When jailers knowingly place an inmate in the same cell as an inmate whom they know intends to harm the other person, they have violated that person’s civil rights (see example below).
These issues could fall under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Enacted on April 20, 1871 in response to atrocities that were occurring against blacks in the southern states following the Civil War and Reparations period, “The Act was intended to provide a private remedy for such violations of federal law, and has subsequently been interpreted to create a species of tort liability.” The statute reads:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.
In the 1960 case of Monroe v. Pape, Statute 1979, a subsection of Section 1 of 42 U.S.C. 1983, was invoked against 13 Chicago police officers for civil rights violations against a black family by depriving the father of his due process rights after he was hauled off to jail and prevented from contacting an attorney. They also cited a violation of their Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures on account of the officers “emptying drawers and ripping mattress covers” in addition to other abuses.
The federal district court maintained that:
The statutory words “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory” do not exclude acts of an official or policeman who can show no authority under state law, custom or usage to do what he did, or even who violated the state constitution and laws. Pp. 172-187. [p168]
The family also claimed a violation of their rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment: “…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law defines 42 U.S.C. 1983 as “the primary means of enforcing all constitutional rights.”
If a state is depriving its residents of “life, liberty, or property,” it would appear that invoking 42 U.S.C. 1983 could be the next avenue of redress for victims. If the county sheriff is a criminal and there is no oversight from the U.S. representative from the district, the two U.S. senators, the state legislature or the governor, the federal code could provide redress.
Cornell University Law School states:
One of the purposes of this legislation was to afford a federal right in federal courts because, by reason of prejudice, passion, neglect, intolerance, or otherwise, state laws might not be enforced and the claims of citizens to the enjoyment of rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment might be denied by state agencies.
Attorney Ian D. Forsythe explains that under 42 U.S.C. 1983, “a state officer can be sued in his official capacity for prospective or injunctive relief despite the fact that an [sic] suit against a government official in his official capacity represents nothing more than a suit against the government entity itself!…Individual employees of federal, state and local government may be sued in their individual capacities for damages, declaratory or injunctive relief.”
According to Wikipedia, one of the purposes of 42 U.S.C. 1983 was to make available “a federal remedy where the state remedy, though adequate in theory, was not available in practice.”
How many inmates have had their civil rights violated at the Monroe County jail by the sheriff’s department, by crooked judges, grand juries, and “defense” attorneys? How many victims have been told, “Well, maybe your civil rights were violated; maybe they wasn’t” after they reported such things as:
Next thing I know, my door is yanked open; they pulled me out of the car by my shirtsleeves with enough force that it tore the sleeves off of my T-shirt, slammed me on the ground, threw me in handcuffs, and then he went to beatin’ on me, callin’ me a hippie and all sorts of names.
Before I got to the jail, they tasered me over and over, repeatedly, and I counted to get my mind off of it. I counted “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi…” and there was one time I counted to 23-Mississippi sittin’ there being shocked.
There is a videotape of me being booked. Matthew Rogers is in possession of it, but he wouldn’t let me have a copy. But he does have the tape. My mother and my stepfather have seen this tape, not just me.
Because Matthew Rogers is an attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Tennessee and he allegedly denied his client a copy of a videotape showing that the client had been beaten and abused, would that not invoke a remedy from the federal level, including from the FBI?
And what about this:
…they tried to rip off my left ear. I don’t know how much of it is left.
Now the statute stands as one of the most powerful authorities with which State and federal courts may protect those whose rights are deprived. Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act provides a way individuals can sue to redress violations of federally protected rights, like the First Amendment rights and the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
According to Attorney Maureen Markey Middleton of the law firm Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP, “Typical Section 1983 claims” include “conditions of confinement” in jails and prisons and specifically, “improper medical attention” under the standard of “deliberate indifference.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “deliberate indifference” involves a jailer’s knowledge of “an excessive risk to inmate health or safety” and disregards it, such as that which Walter Fitzpatrick reported to The Post & Email on December 16. According to Middleton, that could constitute an infringement of both Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, which “prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments.”
The case of a Pennsylvania state prisoner who filed a pro se lawsuit and recovered damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983 is here. The inmate/plaintiff also was awarded “reasonable attorney’s fees” under 42 U.S.C. 1988.
Walter Fitzpatrick has been fined $3,000 for two misdemeanors, plus court costs of $1,776. Is that excessive under the Eighth Amendment?
If not one attorney practicing in Tennessee wishes to pursue a case in the interest of restoring constitutional governance in his state and gaining restitution for a client who has been deprived of his civil rights, victims of abuse could seek out an attorney who specializes in 42 U.S.C. 1983 cases in either state or federal court.