MANTI—As a former warden of both the Draper and Gunnison prisons, Alfred “Chuck” Bigelow can’t tell you how many times he has been sued by disgruntled inmates and their families. But it’s been a bunch.
So when a recent ruling came down from the 10th Circuit Court in Denver on Oct. 21 clearing his name, Bigelow wasn’t surprised.
The court of appeals ruled that Bigelow and other defendants with the Utah Department of Corrections have qualified immunity in a lawsuit brought by the grandmother of a mentally ill 19-year-old inmate, Brock Tucker, who hanged himself with a bedsheet while in solitary confinement at the Gunnison Prison in October of 2014.
Just elected as the new mayor of Manti, Bigelow said the ruling was correct.
As a child, Tucker suffered a near-fatal drowning accident, leaving him with an IQ of 70.
While serving a sentence for car theft at the Gunnison Prison, Tucker was sent to solitary confinement as punishment for bad behavior. He was discovered dead, hanging from his top bunk at 6:15 p.m. on Oct. 2 by an officer distributing medication.
His grandmother, Janet Crane, sued the Utah Department of Corrections in October 2016, claiming the state discriminated against Tucker because of his mental disabilities, leading to his suicide, according to the Courthouse News Service.
A lower court dismissed Crane’s complaint in February 2020, and Crane appealed to the 10th Circuit in March.
Crane alleged that prison officials subjected Tucker to cruel and unusual punishment by placing him in solitary confinement, a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Crane and her attorney Rocky Anderson also claimed that CUCF “failed to adequately treat its mentally ill inmates, including Brock, and failed to recognize suicide risk and properly train officers to prevent suicide.”
The lawsuit also claimed state agencies and institutions showed “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, health and safety” of her grandson since he first entered the justice system at the age of 13.
But 10th Circuit Court Judge Carolyn B. McHugh wrote that the CUCF defendants’ general use of punitive isolation to discipline prisoners who happen to be mentally ill does not violate clearly established law.