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Prisoner Lawsuit Gets New Life from 9th Circuit Court

Fierro v. Smith Docket: 19-16786, Opinion Date: July 5, 2022. In 2011-2013, Fierro made six requests to be placed into protective custody, insisting that he was at risk of harm because he had received threats from the Border Brothers, a gang active throughout Arizona’s prisons. All six requests were denied. Fierro was physically assaulted in the prison yard by two other prisoners, at least one of whom was a suspected member of the Border Brothers. Fierro brought suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court instructed the jury to “give deference to prison officials in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that, in their judgment, are needed to preserve discipline and to maintain internal security in a prison.” The Ninth Circuit vacated a verdict in favor of the prison officials. The evidence at trial reflected a genuine dispute whether the decisions to deny Fierro’s requests for protective custody were made pursuant to a security-based policy, and, if so, whether the decisions were an unnecessary, unjustified, or exaggerated response to security concerns, so the district court’s deference instruction was erroneous.


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