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Ex-inmate loses lawsuit filed over handling of prison riot

Prison cell
Posted at 11:49 AM, Nov 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-13 12:49:01-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A former inmate who accused the state of negligence has lost the lawsuit he filed after a Nebraska prison riot left two inmates dead in 2015.

The judge said in a ruling filed Friday that John Wizinsky didn’t provide enough evidence to prove he had been injured, the state mismanaged its riot response or the Tecumseh prison was understaffed at the time.

His attorney, Joy Shiffermiller, said Tuesday she expects Wizinsky to appeal. She told the Lincoln Journal Star that she and her client believe “the record will demonstrate to the appellate court that we met the burden to prove that the state was negligent and caused Mr. Wizinsky’s injury.”

The nonjury trial occurred May 28-31 and was the second one held over the lawsuit. The first ended in a mistrial when the judge determined that he had a conflict of interest.

The lawsuit, filed in 2016, alleged the state was negligent during the May 10, 2015, riot at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. The Mother’s Day violence involved more than 400 inmates and lasted 11 hours. To date, no one’s been charged with the two inmates’ slayings.

Wizinsky, who served time for drugs, theft and other crimes, said in his lawsuit he stopped three inmates from nearly beating another prisoner to death, and that he was left without his diabetes medication for 18 hours and deprived of food necessary for his medical condition.

“This went on for hours,” Wizinsky testified. “You didn’t know if you were coming or going.”

A follow-up riot report said the Tecumseh prison was understaffed by four people and four program areas were closed that day. The report authors criticized pre-riot conditions such as housing protective custody inmates next to maximum security inmates, and unrest among inmates over the perceived tightening of rules.

“The prison was under stress; inmates were unsettled; the ‘barometric pressure’ was high and rising,” the report said. “When the initial resistance took place, this stress permitted small acts of resistance to expand rapidly.”