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Court: Prisoner’s tobacco spit complaint against guard ‘frivolous’

Stephen Huba
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Michael Coghlan

A complaint by a former SCI Fayette prisoner alleging his food was tainted by chewing tobacco spit has been dismissed as frivolous by a Pennsylvania appellate court.

The Commonwealth Court three-judge panel said prisoner William Mayo, 40, failed to show harm or to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment.

“Mayo’s complaint did not allege that he was deprived of any of the minimal necessities of human life, such as food, shelter or medical care. It did not allege that he received food that was contaminated with spit, tobacco or any foreign substance. In short, it did not allege that he suffered an injury,” President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote in a memorandum opinion.

Mayo, who is serving a life sentence for murder , said in his original complaint that, while incarcerated in the SCI Fayette Restricted Housing Unit, a corrections officer chewed tobacco while serving food from an uncovered tray and spit the chewing tobacco into a trash can in front of Mayo’s cell.

Mayo insisted in a complaint seeking a writ of mandamus that some of the tobacco spit had come in contact with his food. The Fayette County Common Pleas Court rejected the complaint as frivolous under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, and Mayo appealed.

Mayo, who currently is incarcerated at SCI Smithfield in Huntingdon County, said the guard’s actions had rendered him unable to eat and caused him to lose weight.

Leavitt wrote that while “prison officials have a duty to provide humane conditions of confinement,” Mayo failed to satisfy the tests necessary for a proper Eighth Amendment claim.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.