Former inmate files lawsuit over alleged beating at Sullivan jail

Matthew Lane • May 12, 2007 at 12:12 PM

BLOUNTVILLE - A Sullivan County man allegedly beaten into unconsciousness while detained at the Sullivan County Detention Center has filed a $1 million federal lawsuit against the county and sheriff's department.

Nathaniel Robinson filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville earlier this month naming Sullivan County and the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department as the defendants.

According to the complaint, Robinson began serving an 18-month sentence in March 2006 on a probation violation and a failure to appear charge. In August 2006, Robinson was placed in a cell with 35 to 40 other inmates, with him being one of two African-Americans in the cell.

Robinson claims the other inmates in the cell were of a "skinhead faction" and that deputies placed him in the cell "to bestow some sort of prison justice" onto him.

The lawsuit states shortly after being placed in the cell, the other African-American inmate was removed, and one of the Caucasian inmates began spouting racial slurs to Robinson. Other inmates soon joined in on the racial slurs and threats to Robinson, the lawsuit states.

Robinson said he attempted to alleviate his "ever increasing" fear by telling the other inmates he did not want any trouble. However, the harassment grew stronger and eventually Robinson said he was struck in the back of the head by one of the inmates and beaten.

"When Robinson came to, he was lying on the floor of the cell, unaware of what had just taken place," the lawsuit states.

Sheriff's deputies removed Robinson from the cell and placed him in a holding cell with another inmate. At that time Robinson said he began feeling dizzy and nauseous, and his head was in excruciating pain.

The lawsuit states Robinson blacked out and lay on the cell floor for approximately three hours without receiving any medical attention from deputies or medical personnel.

Eventually, Robinson states he was transported to Indian Path Medical Center, where he woke up six weeks later, unaware of exactly what had taken place. On Aug. 11, 2006, Judge Jerry Beck granted a furlough order for Robinson because he was expected to remain in the hospital for two to six months.

The lawsuit states that Robinson remains under a doctor's care and to date has sustained $385,940 in medical bills.

Robinson claims the sheriff's department failed to properly train and supervise its law enforcement personnel, deliberately placed him into a harmful and threatening situation, and neglected his injuries following the attack.

Sullivan County and the sheriff's department have a well-documented history of violating the civil rights of inmates, the lawsuit alleges.

"This history can only be attributed to either a severe lack of training, supervision and understanding of the law or a blatant disregard of the law and the rights of inmates," the lawsuit states.

Kingsport attorney Julia West, who is representing Sullivan County, had no comment about the lawsuit.

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