Blank Tapes from Guard Bodycams Aid Inmate’s Lawsuit

Blank Tapes from Guard Bodycams Aid Inmate’s Lawsuit

Anthony Mann has not been an ideal inmate at the Special Management Unit in the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. Convicted of a pair of execution-style killings, since 2002, he’s been serving a life sentence without a chance of parole. He’s also tried to escape several times, been charged with frequent violations of prison disciplinary rules, and filed multiple administrative complaints (all dismissed) against the institution and its staff.

Yet a federal jury recently decided Mann should prevail in a long-running 1983 mistreatment lawsuit he brought against the state and prison staff and awarded him $8,100 in damages for what the jury determined was mistreatment.

The award was based on an incident during the summer of 2010 while Mann was being removed from his cell by a five-guard extraction team. Mann claimed they continued to beat him while he was down on the floor, had stopped resisting, and was trying to surrender.

His lawsuit was initially dismissed in 2013 by a federal judge in Charleston, who found insufficient evidence to support it. But aided by a volunteer team of lawyers from an appellate law clinic at Georgetown’s law school in Washington, D.C., Mann persuaded a three-judge appellate panel in Richmond to reverse that decision, finding enough evidence – including affidavits from other inmates – for jurors to conclude prison guards had acted “maliciously, sadistically” and contrary to the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The appeals court sent the case back to the same judge in Charleston for trial.

During the week-long trial, prison guards testified the incident began when Mann barricaded himself inside his cell; when they responded, they found the cell floor slippery with soap and water and found Mann had put a cloth around his wrists and ankles to make it harder for guards to put restraints on him.

Mann, whose mental health ailments include bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and ADHD, had fashioned an improvised gas mask to resist pepper spray (his other claims included being sprayed on previous occasions and not being decontaminated for multi-day periods). He met responding guards by hurling over a dozen plastic shampoo bottles filled with stored human waste at them. Corrections staff claimed they used only reasonable force in restraining Mann and stopped using force once he was restrained.

Although the extraction team was equipped with body cameras, the state couldn’t produce any video evidence when Mann’s lawsuit — originally filed without legal assistance, citing multiple instances of claimed mistreatment – came to trial. The jury ultimately considered only three incidents involving eight corrections officers and ruled against the state only for the barricade incident.

The state’s defense team claimed the cameras’ tapes, which on review turned out to be blank, must have been destroyed in the violent clash with the prisoner, but Mann’s attorneys stressed the absence of bodycam evidence in addressing the jury and cross-examining defense witnesses, arguing prison officials had negligently or deliberately removed the evidence.

The South Carolina Department of Corrections said no staff members had been disciplined over the incident for which Mann was awarded damages, but it has revised its bodycam procedures, moving from videotape to digital technology, making equipment failures less likely.