- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 28, 2018

TECUMSEH, Neb. (AP) - The family of a man strangled by his cellmate at a Nebraska prison has sued the state, the prisons director and prison staff.

Terry Berry, 22, was killed in April 2017 by cellmate Patrick Schroeder, who was serving a life sentence for murder.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday in Omaha says the prisons department and prison officials violated Berry’s civil rights. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Berry’s pain and suffering as well as punitive damages.

A companion state lawsuit was filed Monday in Johnson County District Court in Tecumseh, where the prison is situated. It alleges the prison had pervasive overcrowding and understaffing issues that increased the risk of assaults.

State and departmental representatives don’t comment on pending litigation. The state hasn’t yet filed court responses.

The lawsuits alleged that corrections supervisors didn’t heed a guard’s warning regarding the pairing of Schroeder and Berry. The guard said she “personally felt that it was not the best idea” because Berry “was known to be very talkative and bothersome” and that Schroeder was an inmate “with a temper (who) would not want someone like” Berry as a cellmate, the lawsuits said.

Berry’s family alleges in the state lawsuit that the prison had overcrowding and understaffing issues that increased the risk of tension, assaults and other disturbances there and “fomented a more specific unsafe environment that erupted multiple times into violent incidents resulting in numerous deaths in recent years.”

Two inmates were killed in a Mother’s Day riot in 2015. Two more were killed in a disturbance March 2, 2017.

Schroeder had been serving a life sentence for the 2006 murder of a 75-year-old Pawnee City farmer. Schroeder offered no defense when he was sentenced to death for Berry’s slaying.

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