Snitches may get stitches—but they also have civil rights

Reeves v. King, No. 13-3416 (8th Cir. Dec. 16, 2014).

Martin Reeves is an Arkansas prisoner. He had informed on a prison nurse, telling the authorities that she had brought contraband into the facility. Lieutenant Jacob King, a prison guard, told other inmates that Reeves was a snitch. Reeves was soon transferred to another prison. 

Reeves sued Lieutenant King, alleging that King had violated the Eighth Amendment—that King, by calling him a snitch, had knowingly subjected him to a serious risk of harm at the hands of other inmates. 

The question before the Eighth Circuit is whether Lieutenant King may be liable in damages because he violated Reeves’s clearly established rights. The Eighth Circuit holds that the answer to that question is “yes.” If you tell inmates that one of their number has informed on a prison nurse for bringing contraband into the facility for the benefit of the prisoners, then of course you’re subjecting the informer to a serious risk of retaliation. In short, Lieutenant King should have known better, so he has to face trial.