A lawsuit filed by the family of Francesco Sanfilippo, the victim in last month's Las Vegas cellmate killing, is raising questions about inmate safety and the housing of mentally-ill prisoners.
Stabbed with a pencil by 18-year-old cellmate Carl Guilford, the family alleges that the prison was negligent and violated Sanfilippo's 8th Amendment rights by placing him in a cell with an inmate known to hear voices and suffer from bipolar disorder.
They want $10 million.
In Farmer v. Brennan, the Supreme Court ruled that, while prisons have a responsibility to ensure inmate safety, not doing so is only actionable when prison officials act with deliberate indifference.
Deliberate indifference requires proof of a known substantial risk of serious harm.
Prior to placing Francesco Sanfilippo in the same cell as Carl Guilford, the Associated Press reports that Guilford had told police that the devil told him to kill his 6-year-old cousin and that he regularly spoke to spirits and heard voices.
Even though the jail has a special unit for inmates with mental health issues, Guilford had undergone a psychiatric evaluation and was cleared to be housed with others.
While Guilford was clearly sick and arguably dangerous, this evaluation is going to make it difficult for the family to prove that the Las Vegas police department disregarded the risks he posed.
The prison will be able to argue that it is not liable for the Vegas cellmate killing because it fulfilled its duty towards inmate safety when it consulted with a licensed psychiatrist before housing Francesco Sanfilippo with Carl Guilford.