former inmate daniel mcgowan’s claims against the bureau of prisons dismissed

by Tim Phillips

On November 9, 2006, Daniel McGowan pled guilty to conspiracy and arson charges, with the understanding that he wouldn’t implicate or identify anyone other than himself. After traveling from the East Coast to Oregon, McGowan had acted as a lookout for two Earth Liberation Front (ELF) arsons, including when activists burned down the offices of Superior Lumber. According to a 2006 Rolling Stone article,

Daniel McGowan, the sandy-haired son of a New York cop, hopped a train to the West Coast with a backpack of his things, hoping to find out what the green anarchists could teach him about changing the world. An earnest student of political theory, McGowan had been trained in nonviolent resistance by the Ruckus Society, and when he arrived in Eugene he volunteered to put together a page in Earth First! Journal to drum up support for political prisoners.

After pleading guilty in 2006, McGowan was sentenced to seven years in prison. McGowan was subsequently transferred from the general prison population to a highly-restrictive Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Marion, Illinois. On March 30, 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs, including McGowan, challenging policies and conditions at two CMUs, and the circumstances under which the CMUs were established. (Later in 2010, McGowan was transferred back into the general prison population, but in February 2011 he was transferred to the CMU in Terre Haute, Indiana.)

Today the court dismissed McGowan’s claims – that he was placed in CMUs in retaliation for protected First Amendment activity – because he was not subjected to physical harm. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) says that no federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury. The other claims in the case, challenging broad due process violations at the CMUs, will proceed.