The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund filed Monday an appellate brief on behalf of Germaine Smart, an incarcerated man who alleges he was sexually assaulted by a corrections officer at St. Clair Correctional Facility.
Smart, who is currently serving a life sentence for murder at Donaldson Correctional Facility, filed a sexual misconduct grievance with the St. Clair County facility sometime after the incident is alleged to have occurred. An internal investigation by the Alabama Department of Corrections said that the complaint was unfounded, even after two witnesses and a partial corroboration from another correctional officer backed Smart’s claim, according to the Legal Defense Fund.
In the wake of the internal investigations findings, the officer alleged to have assaulted Smart charged him with “lying” and “an unauthorized hearing” by prison officials and found reason to place Smart into disciplinary segregation as punishment, according to the Legal Defense Fund.
Smart then filed a lawsuit in District Court against the prison, with the court finding that officials at the prison were shielded by qualified immunity, but that Smart had presented enough evidence of a First Amendment rights violation to move his claim forward.
“Prison officials violated Germaine Smart’s constitutional rights, and when Mr. Smart filed a complaint stating he was sexually assaulted by a prison guard, they made the egregious decision to punish him,” said Legal Defense Fund Deputy Director of Litigation Chris Kemmitt in a statement on Tuesday. “It should have been plainly obvious to any prison guard that retaliating against an incarcerated person and punishing them for filing a sexual assault complaint is unlawful.”
In the brief filed on Monday, the Legal Defense Fund argued that the District Court that handled Smart’s lawsuit was in error by granting qualified immunity status to the correctional staff who violated Smart’s constitutional rights. It further argues that prison officials acted outside their discretionary authority in punishing Smart and that the circumstances when state code and appellate court decisions are taken into consideration show that an individual cannot be “charged or punished under these circumstances.”
“Incarcerated individuals are at great risk of sexual assault, and prisons in Alabama have long been known to be replete with sexual abuse and neglect,” said Legal Defense Fund Assistant Counsel Georgina Yeomans in a statement made Monday. “Incarcerated people should be protected from this abuse, not retaliated against for reporting it. Qualified immunity must not be used to shield prison guards who violate federal law and state regulations and disregard the rights of incarcerated persons.”