An inmate who instigated a destructive rampage at the Utah State Prison in 1989 has won a legal battle against efforts to bill him for the damage he caused.
David R. Jolivet, who is currently being held in a federal prison at Florence, Colo., had been assessed $14,095 from his prison work account for smashing windows, doors and furniture during a short-lived revolt in a high-security area of the prison.But Jolivet challenged the assessment in federal court, asserting prison officials deprived him of his constitutional right to due process by failing to provide him with an itemized list of the damage.
He argued that without a list of what was destroyed and how much each item cost to replace or repair, he could not contest the assessment at a restitution hearing. He also claimed the assessment was cruel and unusual punishment.
Corrections officials responded that the law provided them with immunity from the lawsuit.
In a 14-page decision released Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Sam ruled in Jolivet's favor, saying the prisoner should have been given an itemized list of the damage.
The incident at issue occurred Dec. 28, 1989, when Jolivet and another inmate used mop handles and garbage cans to smash reinforced glass barriers between a common area for prisoners and a security control booth. Another 10 inmates then joined the rampage, breaking windows and doors and destroying equipment.
A SWAT team was sent in a short time later and quelled the riot with a "sting ball" that fired a mass of rubber pellets throughout the area. The entire incident was recorded by a security video camera, and the film was widely broadcast in the days that followed.
Prison officials said Jolivet started the riot to protest the opening of his mail, a practice he was challenging in federal court. A federal judge later ruled that Jolivet's privacy rights had been violated when prison guards showed another inmate some "love letters" that Jolivet had received from that inmate's ex-wife.
At a 1990 disciplinary hearing, Jolivet was found guilty of engaging in and inciting a disturbance, threatening conduct and deliberate damage to state property. Two days later, he was order to pay $14,095.94 restitution.
Since Jolivet couldn't contest the figure, "the court is of the opinion that the procedural due process protections of notice and a hearing were rendered ineffective," Sam said.
He added, "Considering the risk of error involved, it would seem to impose no additional administrative burden on prison officials and, indeed, enhance the damage figure to provide (Jolivet) with itemized damages calculations and allow him an opportunity to challenge them in the hearing before restitution is imposed."
Prison officials are free to reinstate the restitution if they repeat the entire process - this time with an itemized list - but Sam questioned whether it could succeed given how much time has passed.
Corrections spokesman Jack Ford said while attorneys ponder that issue, prison officials will continue to hold inmates responsible for damage to state property.
"If the court is telling us we need to do it another way, we will take that into account," Ford said. "But we will certainly continue to send a strong message to prisoners that if they damage or destroy property, they will be assessed the costs."
A litigious inmate, Jolivet has acted as his own lawyer in most of the prison rights lawsuits he has filed over the years. In 1994, Jolivet and another inmate attempted to break out of the Salt Lake County Jail but were captured in the act.
He later pleaded guilty to a federal charge of attempted escape and was sentenced to another 41 months in prison. He was already serving five other prison terms for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, rape, aggravated robbery and forcible sodomy.