Moldy Mattress Nets Inmate $295k

Jury: Lousy bedding violated Wisconsin felon's constitutional rights

View Document

Moldy Mattress Nets Inmate $295k

SEPTEMBER 19--A Wisconsin man serving time for reckless homicide yesterday was awarded $295,000 by a federal jury that found the inmate's constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to spend two months sleeping on a moldy, waterlogged mattress.

Reggie Townsend, 29, scored the six-figure windfall after a U.S. District Court panel decided that he was improperly treated while locked up in late-2004 at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution. The jury's special verdict can be found here.

Following a jail riot, Townsend spent about 60 days in a 12' x 6' segregation unit he shared with another state inmate. During that period, the jury found that Townsend had to sleep on the cell floor atop a thin mattress adjacent to the shower. The mattress, Townsend claimed, soon became "wet, moldy and foul smelling" and was not replaced despite his complaints to jail guards.

Though he did not suffer any physical harm from the unsanitary bedding, Townsend was deprived of the "minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," the jury decided after deliberating six hours. While the $295,000 punitive damage award was levied against Jerry Allen, a corrections officer, the State of Wisconsin may end up on the hook for the alleged actions (or inaction) of its employee.

Townsend, pictured in the above mug shot, is serving 23 years for his role in a Milwaukee street shootout that left an 11-year-old girl dead. The child was hit by a stray bullet while inside her grandmother's home. (2 pages)