Court: Prison has responsibility when releasing disabled inmates | NevadaAppeal.com

Court: Prison has responsibility when releasing disabled inmates

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday the Department of Corrections has a responsibility to make sure they don’t release a disabled inmate into a situation where he can’t be cared for.

The case was filed on behalf of George Butler who was left brain damaged and a quadriplegic after an attack by other inmates. It was dismissed by district court.

The unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Bill Maupin pointed out that when Butler was released from prison, the plan was to house him with his girlfriend Sheila Woods. She was advised beforehand that her trailer would need a wheelchair ramp, hospital bed and other medical equipment to take care of him and she agreed.

But when prison officials arrived with Butler, there was no ramp, no appropriate bed or other equipment.

“Despite the obvious lack of preparation and the officers’ own doubts that Woods would be able to lift or move Butler on her own, they left Butler with Woods and returned to their regular duties,” according to the opinion.

Two weeks later, a malnourished, dehydrated and ill Butler was hospitalized. He was hospitalized several months before being released to a nursing home.

“At a minimum, (the state) had a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid foreseeable harm to Butler in effectuating his post-release placement,” Maupin wrote.

Since that is a factual inquiry, he ruled Butler has a right to present that argument to a jury, and ordered the case back to Clark County District Court for a trial on that issue.

Butler also charged that prison officials violated his rights by not preventing the attack which left him crippled in the first place, but the court rejected that argument.

The justices ruled prison officials have a duty to protect inmates from foreseeable harm.

“In this case, as the appellant never informed prison officials that he was afraid for his personal safety and officials were not otherwise ‘on notice’ of an imminent attack, prison officials had no specific duty to protect the appellant form the unforeseeable attack that occurred,” the opinion states.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.