- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska sued the state on Tuesday on behalf of a prisoner who says officials failed to protect him from at least three beatings while he was serving time at the crowded Nebraska State Penitentiary.

The lawsuit alleges that prison officials knowingly allowed other inmates to assault Joshua Franklin, and that officials repeatedly failed to follow their own procedures which Franklin says would have kept him and his assailants apart.

Franklin, who is biracial, said he was first attacked by a member of a white supremacist prison gang while awaiting his sentencing at the Sarpy County Jail. The 30-year-old Franklin said he was assaulted three more times after he was moved to the state prison in Lincoln. Those assaults left him with a damaged eye socket, a detached retina, a head injury, memory loss and vision problems, he says.

The lawsuit names as defendants corrections director Michael Kenney, three wardens and an assistant warden. James Foster, a corrections department spokesman, said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The department has faced criticism in recent months for its handling of inmates and overcrowding.

Franklin is serving three years and four months for forgery, bad check and theft by deception convictions. His projected release date is Nov. 26, 2016.

He still suffers from vision and memory problems along with anxiety and nightmares, ACLU attorneys said. Franklin also filed multiple complaints to warn prison officials that he was in danger, said Eric Kruger, a trial attorney who is working with the ACLU on the case.

The lawsuit cites repeated written pleas for help by Mr. Franklin to state officials that were met with only empty promises to keep him safe.

“There are smarter ways to use taxpayer dollars in Nebraska that also keep our communities safe and treat people fairly,” said Amy Miller, ACLU of Nebraska’s legal director.

Miller said her group has interviewed dozens of inmates, and all of the state prisons were over capacity when officials failed to maintain order. She noted that the Nebraska State Penitentiary’s inmate population was 175 percent of what it was designed to hold at the time Franklin was attacked.

The ACLU of Nebraska said it is investigating other complaints about constitutional violations in Nebraska prisons and exploring systemic litigation strategies. The group said it may work with Nebraska lawmakers in the upcoming session to make changes.

Nebraska’s overall prison population was at 140 percent of its design capacity as of Nov. 30, according to the Department of Correctional Services.

A legislative committee on Monday called for more Nebraska prison administrators to lose their jobs in the wake of several department scandals, blaming the agency’s problems on a culture of lawlessness and poor management.

The committee proposed 16 major reforms in a report on the Department of Correctional Services. Its chairman also faulted Gov. Dave Heineman for a failure to oversee the agency. Heineman has said the committee politicized its hearings.

The ACLU said it also has concerns over the state’s use of segregation for inmates and mental health treatment that it said was inadequate.

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