Judge dismisses inmate's hunger strike lawsuit

Danny Singleton
Danny Singleton

GULFPORT -- A federal judge has dismissed a state inmate's lawsuit that claimed his rights were violated by punitive steps to stop his hunger strike.

Danny Singleton, serving 35 years for an armed robbery attempt in Harrison County, filed the lawsuit Feb. 12, 2015, against the state Department of Corrections, its commissioner and all staff members.

Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice Tuesday. The complaint can't be brought up again. Guirola also denied Singleton's request for a hearing and to have his filing fee returned.

Singleton had gone on a hunger strike to protest what he described as racially motivated harassment by gang members and staff at the state prison in Purvis. His complaint said he was moved to the state prison in Leaksville when he began his hunger strike at midnight Dec. 12, 2014.

Alleged harassment

He claimed he had been harassed at Purvis by gang members, including one who had threatened "to kill a white man." Singleton said he filed a complaint, and was put in a holding cell two hours after prison staff talked to the gang members, who reportedly suggested a shakedown of Singleton's prison cell.

He ended his hunger strike four days later, the complaint said, after learning of MDOC's policies regarding inmates who refuse to eat. For every three meals missed, MDOC can change an inmate's classification, place the inmate in lockdown and halt some of their privileges.

The First Amendment protects an inmate's right to a hunger strike if the reason is intended "to convey a particularized message," Guirola wrote. But as long as there are means of communication to resolve the issues, prison officials can uphold policies to restrict a hunger strike, he wrote.

Singleton's lawsuit included complaints of "poor prison conditions," but the issue for the court to decide was if his rights had been violated, Guirola wrote.

A suicide attempt

MDOC classifies a hunger strike as an attempt to commit suicide and has a duty to preserve an inmate's health, Guirola said. Corrections officials can even seek a court order to force-feed an inmate on a hunger strike, he added.

Guirola cited case law that shows MDOC could be liable for deliberate indifference to Singleton's health and medical needs if it had ignored the hunger strike.

Singleton had felony convictions in Texas and Louisiana before he was convicted of a Sept. 22, 1983, armed robbery in Gulfport.

A doctor and his brother-in-law had returned to the doctor's home and found Singleton burglarizing it. Court records show Singleton pulled a revolver on them, threatening to shoot, but the doctor pulled his own gun. Singleton was trying to escape through a bathroom window when he was apprehended.

He was convicted May 31, 1984.

Singleton appealed his conviction and sentence, claiming he didn't commit armed robbery because it was a foiled attempt.

The Mississippi Supreme Court in 1986 upheld the sentence but ordered the lower court to change the conviction to attempted armed robbery.