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Nebraska Supreme Court Tosses Inmate’s Claim of Negligence, Riot Injuries

Plaintiff John Wizinsky says his PTSD and diabetes have both gotten worse after the riot.

The Nebraska Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal of an inmate who had tried to sue the state over injuries he sustained in a prison riot.

The Star Herald reports that the lawsuit was filed by John Wizinsky, a former inmate at Tecumseh State Prison. While incarcerated at Tecumseh in 2015, Wizinsky was caught in the midst of a massive riot which effectively upturned several housing units and left two inmates dead.

In his lawsuit, Wizinsky said that he already suffered from both diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. During the riot itself, Wizinsky was unable to retrieve or request additional insulin; he was also struck in the head during a melee between inmates.

According to Wizinsky’s lawsuit—first filed in late 2018—he had been placed in protective custody, or PC, at the time of the riot.

“If a riot happens, PC are the first ones to be killed,” Wizinsky said at trial. “I was real specific [with the other PC inmates] […] if we don’t stick together, we’re all going to die.”

At one point, inmates from the general population managed to breach the protective custody unit; one man was beaten close to death as retaliation for testifying against another prisoner. Wizinsky said he managed to drag the injured inmate away but was struck in the back of the head while doing so.

Image via Rennett Stowe/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-2.0)

The riot, said Wizinsky, caused him physical harm, exacerbated his diabetes and PTSD, and has continued to adversely impact his life.

However, Wizinsky’s lawsuit was earlier dismissed by a Lancaster County judge. And, late last week, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld that decision.

The ruling, adds The Star Herald, cites Nebraska’s sovereign immunity law, which shields most government agencies from civil litigation.

While the state can still be sued under certain, limited circumstances—if, for instance, a government agency or official makes discretionary decisions which fall outside the scope of their usual duties, obligations, or policy.

But in its Friday ruling, the Supreme Court found that Wizinsky’s lawsuit does not meet the standard.

“The chaotic circumstances of a riot,” the justices wrote, “is [sic] a classic example of an activity requiring the exercise of discretion.”

The Star Herald notes that a prison security expert had earlier testified that Tecumseh State Prison was compliant with Department of Corrections and state expectations: it had a functional plan to respond to and contain riots, and it was adequately staffed.

Sources

Court sides with state in Nebraska prison riot lawsuit

Disturbance leaves 2 inmates dead at Nebraska prison

Former inmate sues state for trauma after deadly 2015 riot at Tecumseh State Prison

Nebraska Supreme Court rejects appeal of inmate hurt in 2015 prison riot

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