Bedford denies claim it didn’t protect inmate
Jeffrey S. Miller suffered injuries from violent attack by cellmate
Bedford County officials have denied allegations by a former inmate who has charged in a federal civil lawsuit that the county failed to protect him from a violent and mentally disturbed cellmate.
The inmate, Jeffrey Scott Miller, 54, claims that prison officials ignored an order by Bedford County Judge Travis W. Livengood to transfer the cellmate, identified as James Howard Dively, 34, to the Torrance State Hospital for a 60-day period to provide him with medication.
Miller, represented by Altoona attorney Christopher R. Jancula, also claims that a psychologist recommended he be placed in a single cell because he was suffering from depression.
The county, through its attorney, Mary Lou Maierhofer of Altoona, initially filed a motion with U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto to dismiss the lawsuit, but Pesto last month recommended the request to dismiss a “failure-to-protect” claim be rejected and thus allow the lawsuit to move forward.
Maierhofer has answered Miller’s claims by pointing out that prison officials named in the lawsuit, Warden Troy Nelson and Officer Gary Wayne Habinyak, were not made aware of Livengood’s order to transfer Dively to the state mental health facility.
In addition, the answer to the lawsuit stated, “it is specifically denied that defendants knew or should have known that (Miller) was to have been placed in his own cell or that there were any issues between (him) and inmate Dively that would result in a violent confrontation.”
The county also denies that it violated any of its policies in its handling of Miller, who was in prison facing charges of failure to adequately register with police.
He since has since been transferred to a state correctional institution to serve a three- to 10-year sentence.
The confrontation between Miller and Dively occurred on Jan. 15, 2016.
Miller, according to his lawsuit, was suffering from “severe depression” due to bullying by other inmates.
A psychologist recommended he be placed in a cell of his own, but, it is charged, “neither the warden or any other employee of the Bedford County Correctional Facility followed up on this.”
Miller informed family members that his cellmate was getting on his nerves and kept telling him “to kill myself, he says it over and over. He’s really crazy.”
About 12:25 p.m. on
Jan. 15, Dively began beating Miller and stabbed him in the eye with a pen or a toothbrush.
The jailhouse video showed that the beating occurred over a period of
35 minutes and was not discovered until Habinyak came to the cellblock as part of his routine security check and found Miller on the floor in a pool of blood.
The lawsuit contends that prison employees were “reckless and deliberately indifferent” to Miller’s safety by ignoring Livengood’s order and by ignoring “the obvious dangerous condition of allowing a severely mentally unstable and violent inmate to close proximity with Miller.”
The cellblock “was not properly monitored to ensure prevention of prisoner-on-prisoner violence,” it is charged in the lawsuit.
While Miller may have complained to his family about being housed with Dively, the county, in its answer, reported that Miller “did not object or express any concern to the defendants regarding being housed in the same cell as inmate Dively.”
Pesto allowed Miller’s civil rights complaint to move forward, but in his report issued on Aug. 10, dismissed a negligence charge brought by Miller.
The defense is asking that the lawsuit be dismissed in its entirety.
U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson in Johnstown is presiding over the Miller lawsuit.
Miller suffered traumatic brain injury, a stab wound of the left eye, several facial fractures, loss of vision, a fractured rib, loss of memory and severe emotional distress due to the beating, according to the lawsuit.