Supreme Court Hands Down Rare Ruling Against Law Enforcement Officials

The Supreme Court on Monday overturned a lower court’s decision that protected corrections officers who allegedly kept an inmate housed in “shockingly unsanitary cells” for six days.

The decision is a rare rebuke to law enforcement officials who invoke the controversial qualified immunity doctrine.

A 7-1 decision handed down by the high court said the horrific conditions described by Trent Taylor, a prison inmate in Texas serving an 11-year sentence for robbery, were so egregious that corrections officers would not be covered by qualified immunity.

Taylor alleged he was transferred to a prison psychiatric unit in a Texas prison after attempting suicide, where he was stripped naked and held in a cell that was filthy with feces on nearly every surface in the cell, including the water faucet.

He was housed in the cell for four days in which he refused to eat or drink in the unsanitary conditions. When moved to a new cell, there was no sink, toilet or bed, and the drain was overflowing with sewage. He spent two more days in that cell, still naked, where he held his urine for 24 hours because prison officials would not take him to a restroom. He suffered a distended bladder that caused him to have a catheter inserted.

Taylor sued, citing his constitutional rights were violated.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the prison guards’ conduct violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment,” but that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity because no court had clearly established that the conditions they imposed on Taylor were unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that “confronted with the particularly egregious facts of this case, any reasonable officer should have realized that Taylor’s conditions of confinement offended the Constitution.”

Justice Clarence Thomas was the dissenting vote. Justice Amy Coney-Barrett did not participate.

This from the Hill.