Tennessee judge puts death row inmate’s lawsuit on hold

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee judge on Monday put on hold a case from a death row inmate alleging mistreatment by prison officials.

The stay of no more than 90 days is to allow Henry Hodges time to exhaust his administrative appeals, Davidson County Chancellor I’Ashea Myles said.

Hodges cut off his penis in October while on suicide watch. In a lawsuit filed in Chancery Court in Nashville, he has accused the state of providing inadequate medical and mental health care. He also accuses the state of cruel and unusual punishment for his treatment upon his return to the prison from the hospital. That included keeping him naked and tied down with restraints on a thin vinyl mattress over a concrete slab in a room where the lights were always on and there was no television or radio.

At a hearing Monday, attorneys for the state argued that the lawsuit is premature, because Hodges must first file a grievance with the prison system. Hodges’ attorneys argued that prison officials have already said his complaints are not covered by their grievance policy, so that state law doesn’t apply.

Chancellor Myles disagreed, saying Monday that the statute offers her little option but to stay the case. However, Myles said she would still hear arguments Friday about which of the court records should be kept from the public.

The Associated Press has asked to intervene to oppose the state’s request for a protective order that would seal broad categories of documents, including all video recordings of Hodges’ treatment while inside the prison. Another news organization, the Nashville Banner, is also seeking to intervene. The Banner wants the court to unseal the documents that have already been filed under seal, arguing that the case is of “extraordinary public concern.”

A Nashville jury in 1992 convicted Hodges of murdering telephone repairman Ronald Bassett two years earlier and sentenced him to death. He also was sentenced to 40 years in prison for robbing Bassett.

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