A federal judge has dismissed a Wyoming inmate's lawsuit claiming a Platte County jail staffer sexually harassed him and other deputies violated his right to complain about it.
U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice Thursday because the prisoner failed to respond in time to the jail staffers' counterclaims. But Johnson also cast doubt on the merits of the inmate's claims.
Johnny Emmanuel Otero, 34, asked for $2 million in damages when he sued Platte County Sheriff’s Office jail staffers in January. Otero alleged that a deputy touched his chest in a sexual manner and drew on his neck with a pen.
When Otero first complained about the alleged incident, two other deputies ticketed him for false reporting. Otero had alleged that the ticket was a violation of his First Amendment rights. He also alleged that his due process and Eighth Amendment rights were violated.
The deputies responded to Otero’s lawsuit in March, saying it was too terse to prove violations of rights and didn’t demonstrate actual harm.
Judge Johnson agreed.
Headed To Prison
Otero was transferred to the Wyoming Department of Corrections at some point during his lawsuit to serve a four- to six-year prison sentence for felony stalking.
Knowing that Otero was between facilities, Johnson gave him extra time to respond to the deputies’ counterclaims.
The usual deadline is 14 days.
Eight weeks passed. When Otero did not respond to the counterclaims, Johnson dismissed the lawsuit.
Ticking Through The Claims
Though Otero’s failure to respond to the counterclaims was grounds enough to dismiss the suit, Johnson ticked through the allegations anyway.
Otero had accused the deputies of violating his Fifth-Amendment right to due process, but Johnson said that particular application of due process only applies to federal entities.
Otero did not explain which conduct constituted a violation of the 14th Amendment, though he’d alleged a 14th-Amendment violation.
Not Enough Details
Otero categorized the deputy’s alleged sexual touching, and drawing on his neck with a pen, as a violation of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.
Tenth Circuit Court judges analyze sexual abuse claims under the Eighth Amendment on a case-by-case basis, wrote Johnson. But plaintiffs still have to demonstrate that the action was “objectively sufficiently serious” and the prison official had a “sufficiently culpable state of mind.”
Minimal applications of force don’t constitute violations of rights unless they’re of a sort “repugnant to the conscience of mankind,” Johnson added.
Otero didn’t divulge enough details to categorize the incident under these criteria.
“It is possible the type of conduct alleged in Mr. Otero’s complaint could constitute an Eighth Amendment violation,” wrote Johnson. “However, the allegations in Mr. Otero’s complaint are so brief that the Court cannot say they are sufficiently serious to meet the objective component of the Eighth Amendment analysis.”
Exhaust Your Remedies
Prisoners who want to file lawsuits have to exhaust their administrative remedies for alleged wrongdoing before taking their grievances to court.
Otero did not show the court that he’d exhausted his administrative remedies to get relief from the false-reporting ticket.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.