Lewisburg Penitentiary

The Lewisburg Penitentiary.

A former inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg has won a $525,000 settlement after suing prison staff and administration for the loss of his eye caused by what he claimed was excessive force.

In a federal civil suit filed earlier this year, former inmate James Hunt accused Lt. Jason Seeba and three other correction officers of firing a pepper ball, a projectile containing hot pepper powder, on Jan. 14, 2016, into a cell at the Special Management Unit where Hint was being held for 23 hours a day with another inmate.

Hunt said the pepper ball struck his face, leading to the loss of an eye.

In the complaint, attorney Jennifer Toobin said the prison staff failed to follow Bureau of Prisons policy regarding the use of force, specifically that they are permitted to use "only the amount of force necessary to gain control of an inmate, to protect and ensure the safety of inmates, staff or others, to prevent serious property damage and to ensure security and good order."

The suit also alleged prior excessive use of force by Seeba, including a claim that another inmate had lost an eye in a similar incident involving a pepper ball.

The settlement reached has the U.S. government paying Hunt $525,000.

Prison spokesman Shawn Barlett said any allegation of staff misconduct would be investigated, but declined to comment on any disciplinary action in this incident.

David Sprout, a spokesman for the inmate advocacy group The Lewisburg Prison Project, said the aim of the suit was to ensure inmates' safety.

"We understand that they will still use (non-lethal chemicals) and there could be certain circumstances when it would be appropriate," he said. "But when (inmates) are in their cell and complying, it shouldn't be used.

"Hopefully this lawsuit got someone's attention in Washington," Sprout said. A settlement of $525,000 "is a lot of taxpayer money."

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