Inmate Files Multiple Federal Lawsuits Against State of Tennessee

CLAIMING DENIAL OF COURT ACCESS, RETALIATION, NON-DELIVERY OF MAIL, DENIAL OF TIMELY PAROLE

by Sharon Rondeau

(Aug. 21, 2017) — Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (BCCX) inmate Robert Z. Whipple, III recently told The Post & Email in a letter that he has three pending federal lawsuits filed against the State of Tennessee as a result of his incarceration.

A fourth was dismissed “on summary judgment,” Whipple reported.

According to Whipple’s FOIL entry at the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), he was eligible for parole on January 29, 2014.

Three of Whipple’s cases were filed at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, while another, filed against the Tennessee Board of Parole, was submitted to the federal court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

On the first page of his July 24, 2017 letter, Whipple provided the cases and their numbers.

As to the case Whipple v. Tennessee Board of Parole, Whipple wrote in his typewritten letter:

It is particularly outrageous that my parole was denied as I am a non-violent offender, completed a 9-month intensive drug treatment program in prison, have a college degree, and haven’t had a disciplinary since 2014– even worse, I was promised parole by a hearing officer in 2014 if I completed TCOM (drug program) and no disciplinaries–apparently you can’t trust anyone who works for the State of Tennessee.

A “disciplinary” is a written infraction report against prison rules alleged by prison staff against an inmate.

Whipple is not the first Tennessee inmate to claim that he was kept in prison long beyond his parole date without a valid reason.  In two other cases, The Post & Email received documentation from inmates and forwarded it, at their request, to the Parole Board’s spokesman, Melissa McDonald.  We have not since heard from those inmates or McDonald.

On Monday, The Post & Email received an order in the Parole Board case which respectively granted and denied, each in part, Whipple’s motion “for his six-month printout of his trust fund statements and for sanctions and a hearing regarding alleged interference with Plaintiff’s legal mail.”

The order, signed by Judge Leon Jordan and filed on August 4, details that Whipple attempted to obtain and send a record of his inmate trust account in order to prove to the court that he should be granted in forma pauperis status.

In 1948, Congress passed a statute, 28 U.S.C. 1915, addressing the granting of access to the federal courts to prisoners without the ability to pay customary filing fees (in forma pauperis).  The law begins:

§1915. Proceedings in forma pauperis

(a)(1) Subject to subsection (b), any court of the United States may authorize the commencement, prosecution or defense of any suit, action or proceeding, civil or criminal, or appeal therein, without prepayment of fees or security therefor, by a person who submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such prisoner possesses that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor. Such affidavit shall state the nature of the action, defense or appeal and affiant’s belief that the person is entitled to redress.

(2) A prisoner seeking to bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding without prepayment of fees or security therefor, in addition to filing the affidavit filed under paragraph (1), shall submit a certified copy of the trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) for the prisoner for the 6-month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint or notice of appeal, obtained from the appropriate official of each prison at which the prisoner is or was confined.

Jordan allowed 30 days for Whipple to comply by sending the required documentation.

As to Whipple’s contention that named defendant “Correctional Officer McBride” should be sanctioned for alleged interference with Whipple’s mail to the court and a hearing convened, Jordan cited Johnson v. Wilkinson…, which held “that one isolated incident of interference with mail did not violate constitutional rights.”

Over the last three months, The Post & Email has received an unofficial complaint against a mailroom employee at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) who was arrested for alleged reckless endangerment on August 2 and reportedly is no longer employed at the prison.  In that case, The Post & Email contacted two court officials to whom the prisoner had addressed legal mail, who confirmed that they had received no documents from him.  We also spoke with a relative of the inmate who confirmed that trouble with the prison mail had necessitated his or her involvement from the outside.

A number of other Tennessee prisoners in various facilities have alleged that their outgoing mail has been tampered with or never sent to its destination.

The complete August 4 order is below.

In another document received on Monday titled “Inmate Inquiry – Information Request,” Whipple alleged that he has been prevented from accessing BCCX’s “Site 2 law library,” which contains federal law cases.  “The U.S. Supreme Court has held that prison officials have an affirmative obligation to assist prisoners in accessing the courts–either by providing access to an adequate law library or by providing trained legal assistance.  See Bounds v. Smith, (I’d give you the citation, but I don’t have law library access!)

Months ago, inmates at TTCC related to this publication that they, too, had very little, if any, access to the law library, most frequently attributed to short-staffing and constant “lockdown” situations.

One Response to "Inmate Files Multiple Federal Lawsuits Against State of Tennessee"

  1. R Whipple   Tuesday, August 29, 2017 at 8:47 PM

    Several other points you may want to publish with these cases. Since the defendants knew about the case while it was being filed by Whipple and before they had been served any legal notification of their involvement in a case, obviously they had read the outgoing mail in the mail room. This resulted in the removal of the annex computer used to provide Westlaw access to the inmates in the annex library and they pointedly name Whipple as the reason for the removal. They continued gaining access to sealed legal mail addressed to the courts as several of them noted as they provided several different punishments to Whipple. This included one over night stay in solitary while the went through all of his personal stuff and removed over half of his legal documents. They also claimed with the federal district court that there was absolutely no legal documents for Whipple contained on the removed computer, yet the warden now has a CD or DVD containing those documents. Whipple has requested that this CD be mailed to me for safe keeping and so I can print off any document that he needs.

    The latest round of retaliation against him which is detailed un Doc 15 (Eastern Fed. Dist. Court – 17cv148) and claims that assistant warden Cobble has refused access to the other libraries at BCCX (namely site 2) for Whipple as a security risk. All inmate in the annex have to lowest security level within BCCX and they even drive them over 50 miles from the prison to work (all without a security problem). The only access he is allowed is to submit a list of cases and they might provide them after two or three weeks. Now since Cobble is named in the suite, it should not take much to put together the idea that his actions are the direct result of being in the suite and there is absolutely no one in authority to stop or prevent this clear violation of his Constitutional right to have access to the federal courts.

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