A lawsuit claiming prison officials turned a blind eye to inmates smoking indoors is moving forward. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled former inmate Jason Sweatman had the right to file a cruel and unusual punishment claim.
Sweatman filed suit in Barbour County Circuit Court against the warden at Ventress Correctional Facility. He claimed the warden "acted with deliberate indifference" by failing to enforce the no-smoking policy.
"As a result I along with other nonsmoking inmates (were) forced to breathe secondhand smoke of nearly 1400 inmates constantly," said Sweatman, who is now out of prison and living in North Alabama.
Sweatman argued the lax enforcement led to health concerns for him and other inmates. The circuit court dismissed the case, and Sweatman appealed. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled he had the right to have his case heard and sent the case back to Circuit Court.
In its decision, it cited federal cases where inmates had claimed constant exposure to secondhand smoke amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
Just this week, Sweatman retained two Montgomery-based attorneys, Charles Turnip seed and Virginia Lucia. He had previously represented himself, including for the appeal.
"This case appears to have merit," Turnip seed said. "Mr. Sweatman deserves to be protected under the law just as any other citizen of the United States."
The Court of Civil Appeals did rule Sweatman cannot collect monetary damages from the warden. No new trial date has been set.
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