Officer sues inmate for assault
Written by Hannah Hoffman Statesman Journal
Jan. 17, 2013
An Oregon State Correction Institution officer is suing an inmate for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, alleging the inmate spit HIV-infected blood on him.
Correctional officer Jeffrey Parnell filed the suit in Marion County Circuit Court on Jan. 4, asking for $700,000 and alleging that Nickolas John Hainz, 22, knew he was infected with the disease and bit the inside of his cheek until it bled so he could spit on the officer.
Parnell’s lawsuit is the first of several to come, Association of Oregon Correctional Employees President Mike Van Patten said. (ACO Note: Sergeant Van Pattern and Nassau County, NY Officer Eddie Callaghan are also Co-Chairs of the American Correctional Officer Training Committee.)
The union has hired lawyer Sean Riddell, a former Department of Justice attorney, to represent its members who want to sue inmates for assaulting them. Van Patten said it’s an organized attempt to stop inmates from throwing urine and feces on officers, spitting on them and hitting them with objects or fists.
It might seem odd for an officer to sue an inmate, but Van Patten said it’s necessary to send a message.
“We didn’t get hired by the department to be punching bags,” he said. “The assaults on staff have gotten worse.”
It already is a felony in Oregon for an inmate to throw bodily fluids on an officer. The 1999 Legislature passed the law after years of inmates facing little punishment for throwing feces or urine onto officers, and it went into effect in 2000. A conviction can land an inmate in jail for five more years.
Before 2000, assaulting an officer was a misdemeanor, and many inmates faced few consequences. District attorneys didn’t have the resources to pursue every misdemeanor charge, and prisons lacked recourse. Many of the inmates who most often deployed “prison cocktails” — a mix of feces and urine — already were in isolated cells, being punished for other behavior.
In 1999, the Department of Corrections reported 115 inmate assaults on staffers in a 13-prison, 9,400-inmate system. In 2012, DOC numbers show 150 assaults in a system that has grown significantly. It now holds 14,205 inmates in 14 prisons, which means the number of assaults hasn’t grown as fast as the population. Even so, Van Patten said it’s simply too much.
“It’s the nature of the beast. It’s a prison,” he said. “And it’s a small portion of the inmate population. there are a majority of inmates who do what they’re supposed to do. But for us, one assault is too much.”
Some assaults come with more baggage than being painful or disgusting. In Parnell’s case, being spit on with allegedly HIV-infected blood meant he had to go through an entire procedure of being washed, disinfected and tested for the disease.
According to the lawsuit, “He waited several months in fear he was infected until medical tests confirmed he was not.” Van Patten said filing civil lawsuits like Parnell’s is one more way to hold inmates accountable and to help officers get an emotional resolution to this part of their job. “We’re doing this partly to get the staff members some closure,” he said. “Post-traumatic stress disorder rates are quite high in this industry.”