Tecumseh prison riot

On May 10, 2015, a riot at the Tecumseh State Prison left two inmates dead and two housing units scorched and trashed. 

LINCOLN (AP) — A federal judge has ruled against a Tecumseh State Prison inmate who sued Nebraska’s prisons director and prison staff, saying they failed to protect him during a riot last year.

Robert Clayborne Jr., 40, was in protective custody when inmates gained control of the prison for several hours after an attack on prison staff on May 10, 2015.

The riot caused extensive damage, and a prison guard fired a shot from the tower in an attempt to regain control, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. Two inmates were found dead after order was restored.

Clayborne’s lawsuit claimed that understaffing led to the riot and that staff showed a deliberate indifference to his right to safety and medical care. He said the incident almost cost him his life.

Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf dismissed the lawsuit, saying staff had to retreat to an office in the lobby for their safety and that the prison wasn’t understaffed at the time of the disturbance. Clayborne said the staff’s retreat subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment. He said no guards or caseworkers were in his unit to help people for seven hours during the fires and violence.

During the dismissal, the judge said staff placed the doors on “group access” before retreating. This meant inmates had the option to either stay in their cells or push a button to open them. Kopf’s order said that staff instructed inmates to evacuate to a mini-yard and that special teams were called in to regain control of the situation. The judge said case law protects government officials from liability for civil damages, as long as their conduct doesn’t violate statutory or constitutional rights.

Clayborne is serving a 25- to 35-year prison sentence for assaulting a woman in Lincoln.

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