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Judge: Ex-inmate can't sue the state over HIV

(ran PW edition of Pasco Times)

The lawsuit by an inmate who says he was infected after being ordered to clean up blood is dismissed.

If a Zephyrhills Correctional Institution guard ordered an inmate to clean up AIDS-infected blood without adequate protection, the state of Florida can't be held accountable if he caught the deadly disease, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Citing a state law that specifically protects the state of Florida from being sued for improper conduct of its employees, Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson dismissed a suit brought by former inmate Richard James Randles, 35.

Swanson's ruling stunned Randles' Orlando civil rights attorney, Steven Mason, who vowed to take the case to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

"It makes me want to throw up," he said as he left the courthouse. "I'm going to file my notice of appeal the moment that order is signed . . . If I don't win at the DCA, I'll go to the Supreme Court."

In the civil lawsuit he filed against the state last year, Randles alleged that Capt. B.D. Hester of the prison staff forced him to clean blood from inmates infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as part of his chores in the prison infirmary.

In the suit, Randles claimed that on at least three occasions he had to clean spilled blood without proper protective equipment _ at least once with torn gloves _ and as a result he contracted HIV.

His attorney said Tuesday Randles has been living a normal life since his release from prison last year after doing time for possession and sale of cocaine. Randles is on medication and has not developed AIDS.

The state has never denied Randles' accusation, choosing instead to argue the technical aspects of the case and dispute Randles' right to sue a state government.

After Tuesday's hearing, Assistant Attorney General Locksley Wade had no comment other than to declare victory.

Wade told the judge during Tuesday's hearing that state law protects the state from suits filed as the result of employees who overstep their duties.

He compared an unlawful order to clean up blood unprotected to the case of a prison guard who raped an inmate. Under the law, the inmate who had been raped would not be allowed to sue the state for the attack, Wade said.

"What could the (corrections) department have done to have prevented this from occurring?" Swanson asked. "In light of the statute, this case will be dismissed."

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