Jury finds Mass. prisons did not violate rights of quadriplegic murderer
Jurors ruled the inmate's rights were not violated when he was never taken outdoors during permanent stays at the infirmary in three state prisons from 2011 to 2016
By Brad Petrishen
Telegram & Gazette
WORCESTER, Mass. — Timothy M. Reaves, a convicted murderer who was rendered a quadriplegic while fleeing the scene of his 1994 crime, was awarded nothing in federal court Tuesday after a jury rejected his contention that the state violated his rights in prison.
In finding against Mr. Reaves, jurors ruled that his Constitutional rights were not violated when he was never taken outdoors during permanent stays at the infirmary in three separate state prisons from 2011 to 2016.
Mr. Reaves' attorneys, from the nonprofit Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts, had argued prison employees were deliberately indifferent to Mr. Reaves' basic human rights by not taking him outside and by denying him access to jailhouse programming.
They also blamed prison officials at Bridgewater State Hospital for several assaults he suffered there, including having urine thrown in his face, being punched in the abdomen and having his feet licked repeatedly by a mentally ill patient.
Lawyers for the Department of Correction argued some of Mr. Reaves' complaints were exaggerated, and showed the jury paperwork of the prisons approving numerous accommodation requests over the years.
The DOC argued that it determined the best way to keep Mr. Reaves safe was to minimize his contact with other prisoners, which is why they denied his requests to go outside.
Lawyers for Mr. Reaves said after the verdict that it was too soon to say whether they would appeal. The lawsuit, filed in 2015, was allowed to proceed by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman, who wrote two opinions that included language sympathetic to Mr. Reaves' claims.
Jurors, who were not told in court what crime Mr. Reaves committed, declined to comment as a group as they walked out of the courthouse.
The DOC said last week it doesn't know how much it's spent caring for Mr. Reaves because it doesn't track expenditures on individual inmates. A report from the New Bedford Standard-Times in 1996 indicated nearly $1 million had been spent in the two years he'd been in custody.
Mr. Reaves became a quadraplegic when the car he was in crashed while fleeing police after a drive-by shooting in New Bedford in April 1994 that killed Daniel J. "D.J." Correia, 14. Mr. Reaves was convicted as the triggerman and was sentenced to life without parole.
Mr. Reaves sprayed United Front Homes (now Temple Landing) in New Bedford with bullets after he was punched during an altercation that began after his failed attempts to buy heroin.
Mr. Reaves and several co-defendants left the area following the initial confrontation, and then returned later and began shooting. DJ. Correia, prosecutors said, was hit after he pushed a deaf child out of harm's way.
Michael Jo Santos, Mr. Correia's older brother, said Tuesday he believes the jury reached the correct verdict.
"I was very happy to see the jury – even though they didn't know why he was (in prison) – they still saw through what was going on," he said, adding that Mr. Reaves has often spat upon prison staff and constantly insults them.
According to a status report by a court monitor filed in May, Mr. Reaves habitually verbally assaults staff at the prison, using "extremely offensive and foul language."
A nurse who tended to him is pursuing criminal assault charges against him, the monitor wrote, while Mr. Reaves, who has been going on hunger strikes, continues to refuse "a number of things," including recreational activities, meals, medications and bathing.
Mr. Santos said the impact of his brother's murder on his family has been devastating. His mother finds difficulty participating in family holidays, he said.
Mr. Santos now serves as a victim/witness advocate in Bristol County, helping others through the first moments of tragedy as he recalled one neighborhood man doing for him back in 1994.
"The first thing I did today was call my mother," Mr. Santos said, to inform her of the jury's verdict.
Mr. Santos said he also used the moment to tell his mother that a family member of Mr. Reaves got in touch last week after seeing news of the lawsuit.
The family member apologized for Mr. Reaves' crime, Mr. Santos said, and he responded that he holds no ill will against that person.
"Every time someone is murdered, it's two families ruined, not just one," he said. "I wish anybody that has children and is thinking about resolving conflicts with violence could see that."
Mr. Santos will now turn his attention to Mr. Reaves' recent petition for medical parole. A new state law allows such parole for those who are terminally ill or incapacitated to the point of not posing a public safety risk.
Mr. Reaves has filed a petition, and Mr. Santos has already testified against the man's release.
"I told them, in 1996, after the trial, the state of Massachusetts promised my family that this man would be locked up for the rest of his life," he said. "And now it's possible that the state may renege on that promise."
Gov. Charlie Baker has filed legislation seeking to amend the law - which was passed during a recent overhaul of criminal justice laws - so that it excludes people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The DOC commissioner makes the decision whether to grant medical parole. A DOC spokesperson declined to comment on Mr. Reaves' petition – including a query as to who would pay for his medical care if he were released – saying the department is precluded from comment by criminal records and medical privacy laws.
The DOC did release a statement on the verdict, writing, "We are pleased to have the jury agree that correctional employees acted professionally at all times and DOC correctional staff will continue to responsibly attend to the unique needs of certain inmates while ensuring institutional safety and security are maintained."
Elizabeth Matos, executive director for Prisoners' Legal Services, wrote in an email that although she appreciates the jury's service, "our sense of basic civility and respect for the law should demand that all people, including this quadriplegic prisoner, not be subjected to greater risk of assault in prison and limited or no access to the already minimal activities available in prisons just because they have an incapacitating disability."