CA5: Unjustified pepper spraying inmate stated claim for relief

Pepper spraying a prison inmate for no apparent reason (maybe just throwing a wad of toilet paper at the guard and having thrown water at him before) stated a claim. McCoy v. Alamu, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 4188 (5th Cir. Feb. 11, 2020):

Thus, even accepting the district court’s view that the injuries were minor and that Alamu tempered the use of force, McCoy has shown genuine disputes as to whether there was any need for force, whether the force used was proportionate, and whether Alamu reasonably perceived any threat from McCoy. Viewing the evidence in McCoy’s favor, the Hudson factors thus suggest that Alamu was motivated by a bare desire to harm McCoy. See Bourne, 921 F.3d at 493.

That conclusion squares with unpublished decisions of ours and of our sister circuits. …

. . .

McCoy tells a story similar to that of the plaintiffs in Chambers, Johnson, and Treats: He was sprayed, in the confines of his cell, for no reason at all. “Indeed, courts have frequently found constitutional violations in cases where a restrained or subdued person is subjected to the use of force.” McCoy’s allegations show a constitutional violation.

Alamu has two main responses, but neither saves him. First, he contends that he reasonably perceived a threat because McCoy threw a wad of toilet paper at him. But even if that factual contention might persuade a jury, it does not justify summary judgment. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). McCoy denies throwing anything at Alamu and supports his denial with competent evidence. Relatedly, Alamu suggests that the spray was justified because the undisputed facts showed that Jackson had twice thrown liquids on Alamu. But the conclusion doesn’t follow: Alamu sprayed McCoy, not Jackson. McCoy should not bear the iniquities of his fellow inmate.

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