Haith v. District of Columbia, No. 84-135.

Docket NºNo. 84-135.
Citation526 A.2d 17
Case DateMay 22, 1987
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District

Page 17

526 A.2d 17
Michael HAITH, Appellant,
No. 84-135.
District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Argued February 26, 1987.
Decided May 22, 1987.

Cassandra P. Hicks, Rockville, Md., with whom Irwin G. Meiselman and Samuel M. Shapiro were on the brief, for appellant.

Michele Giuliani, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., with whom James R. Murphy, Acting Corp. Counsel at the time the brief was filed, Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corp. Counsel, and Lutz Alexander Prager, Asst. Deputy Corp. Counsel, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before MACK, FERREN and TERRY, Associate Judges.

TERRY, Associate Judge:

Michael Haith, a prisoner at the District of Columbia's Lorton Reformatory, was beaten and stabbed one night by four fellow inmates. He sued the District, alleging that it had been negligent in failing to provide adequate training and supervision for its correctional officers and in various aspects of its management and operation of the Lorton facility. The jury found in favor of the District, and Haith noted this appeal. Finding error in the trial court's instructions to the jury, we reverse the judgment and remand the case for a new trial.

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In December 1980 Michael Haith was convicted of second-degree burglary and sentenced to a three- to twelve-year term of imprisonment in Lorton Reformatory. After he had been at Lorton for about a year, he discovered that an acquaintance from his old neighborhood, Robert Johnson, had recently begun to serve a sentence there. It was William Johnson, Robert's brother, who had informed the police of the burglary of which Haith had been convicted. Haith testified, however, that he had no reason to believe Robert Johnson might harbor any feelings of hostility toward him.1 He therefore did not inform the prison authorities of any potential danger due to Robert's arrival.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m. on February 23, 1982, the eve of Haith's scheduled transfer to a minimum security unit within the Lorton complex, Haith noticed that his laundry was not in its customary place beside his bed. He left dormitory No. 4, where he resided, and went to dormitory No. 16 to speak to Alphonso Brown, another inmate who regularly did Haith's laundry. Haith testified that he passed two empty and padlocked guard shacks on his way to see Brown, although he did see a guard at quarter post No. 3, which was directly in front of dormitory No. 16.2 Haith also said that a number of the lights outside the dormitories were not operating.

When Haith arrived at dormitory No. 16, he stuck his head inside the door and spoke to a friend and fellow inmate, Gregory Gary. Gary told Haith that Brown was in the shower, but that his laundry would be ready in about five or ten minutes. Haith decided to wait outside on a ledge in front of the dormitory.

As he waited, Haith was suddenly attacked by four other prisoners. Haith testified that he was struck on the back of the head with a piece of pipe. The assailants, three of whom wore masks, also stabbed him several times with homemade knives and tried to drag him between dormitory No. 16 and the adjacent dormitory No. 18. As Haith struggled to free himself, he screamed for help, but no one came to his aid.3 After about three minutes, Haith managed to break loose and run away. Before he fled, however, he pulled the mask off one of his attackers, whom he recognized as Robert Johnson. Haith testified that Johnson said to him, "I'm going to kill you," and that Johnson was the one who had initially hit him in the head with the pipe. He later identified the assailant who wore no mask as Freddie Davis.

Although the prison infirmary was closer than dormitory No. 4, Haith ran back to his own dormitory and "collapsed." Two other inmates then took him to the infirmary, where he was questioned by two correctional officers, Lieutenant Eugene Haywood and Officer William Fontaine. According to Haywood and Fontaine, Haith told each of them that he had been hurt "playing" in dormitory No. 4. At trial Haith denied making these statements.

Eugene Miller, a penology expert, testified in response to a hypothetical question that if there were no guard in quarter post No. 3 or on the main walkway at the time of the assault, the "officer supervision" of the prisoners would not conform to "proper penological procedures." Miller also criticized the laxity of the prison's searches for contraband, particularly weapons, and said that the response by prison guards to the assault was inadequate. According to Miller, if these deficiencies had not existed, there was a "good likelihood" that the attack on Haith could have been prevented, or at least "interrupted" before Haith was seriously injured.

Page 19

The District countered Miller's testimony with that of Major James Black, the Chief of Security for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. Although he did not testify as an expert, Black said in essence that the various security policies and practices at Lorton were adequate. Appellant objected that several portions of Black's testimony were unqualified expert opinion.

Lieutenant Gerald Collins, another correctional officer, also testified for the District, although he was not listed as a witness in the pre-trial order. Collins said that he had been on duty at quarter post No. 3 at the time the assault allegedly took place. Although he had a clear view of the front of dormitory No. 16 from his post, he said that he had seen no disturbance that night and had no reason to believe that an assault had occurred.

The court gave standard jury instructions on negligence and proximate cause. The jury also heard an instruction tailored for prison assault cases, proffered by the District, which discussed the general philosophy of prison management and explained that, because of the assaultive tendencies of convicts, rehabilitation necessarily involves "calculated risks." Appellant's counsel objected to this instruction, but the court overruled the objection. Finally, the court instructed the jury on contributory negligence and assumption of risk.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the District. On appeal Haith contends that the trial court's instruction on the "calculated risks" involved in rehabilitating criminals was improper, as well as the...

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7 cases
  • Wilkins v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 06–384(RC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • July 24, 2012
    ...penal authorities are under a duty to protect and safeguard the prisoners entrusted to their custody.” Haith v. District of Columbia, 526 A.2d 17, 19 (D.C.1987); see also District of Columbia v. Moreno, 647 A.2d 396, 398 (D.C.1994) (quoting Haith ); District of Columbia v. Carmichael, 577 A......
  • Wilkins v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action 06-384 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • July 24, 2012
    ...penal authorities are under a duty to protect and safeguard the prisoners entrusted to their custody." Haith v. District ofPage 6Columbia, 526 A.2d 17, 19 (D.C. 1987); see also District of Columbia v. Moreno, 647 A.2d 396, 398 (D.C. 1994) (quoting Haith); District of Columbia v. Carmichael,......
  • Jenkins v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 17–0218 (EGS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 17, 2018
    ...... penal authorities are under a duty to protect and safeguard the prisoners entrusted to their custody." Haith v. District of Columbia , 526 A.2d 17, 18 (D.C. 1987) (citations omitted). It is plaintiff who bears the burden to show that CSOSA "breached its duty to protect him from harm and......
  • Toy v. District of Columbia, 87-289.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • October 14, 1988
    ...protection and safekeeping of prisoners. District of Columbia v. Mitchell, 533 A.2d 629, 639 (D.C. 1987); Haith v. District of Columbia, 526 A.2d 17, 19 (D.C. 1987); Hughes v. District of Columbia, supra, 425 A.2d at 1302. Although this statutory provision expressly applies only to official......
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