Bridges v. Wetzel

Shawnfatee Bridges is a 40-year-old man held on death row in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) at State Correctional Institution Graterford, Mr. Bridges has spent over 19 years in solitary confinement on death row.

Due to the harsh and highly restrictive conditions of solitary confinement, Mr. Bridges has been prohibited from contact visits with family. For almost 20 years, he has been prohibited from hugging his five children. He has never held his three grandchildren.

For nearly half of his life, Mr. Bridges has lived in a cell that “is no larger than 7 feet by 12 feet, smaller than a typical parking space,” where “the lights in his cell [are kept] on 24 hours a day while officers shine flashlights in his face every thirty minutes during night rounds.” These conditions have been imposed despite Mr. Bridges receiving only two minor disciplinary infractions in nearly two decades, neither of which were violent or resulted in any disciplinary custody time. One of the misconducts, for instance, was for making more than the three allowed phone calls per week, which he could only do if staff provided the phone for him.

Originally sentenced to death in February 1998, Mr. Bridges’ conviction and sentence were overturned in 2013.

In February 2017, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision that held that the continued solitary confinement on death row of individuals who, like Mr. Bridges, have obtained relief on their death sentence violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Williams v. Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 848 F.3d 459 (3d Cir. 2017).

Despite this ruling, the DOC continues to hold Mr. Bridges in 22-24 hour solitary confinement without any prospect of release to the general population in violation of the Williams decision. As a result of the conditions on death row Mr. Bridges is experiencing worsening depression, short-term memory problems, cognitive and concentration difficulties, anxiety, and hopelessness despite the fact that his conviction and sentence were reversed four years ago. These symptoms of long-term, perpetual solitary confinement were warned about by the Third Circuit in the Williams case when it said these conditions can “trigger devastating psychological consequences, including a loss of sense of self.”

On August 2, 2017, Mr. Bridges filed a complaint challenging his perpetual solitary confinement and a motion for preliminary injunction ordering his immediate release to the general prison population. He is challenging his continued isolation as a violation of the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment’s procedural due process clause.

Mr. Bridges is represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and Cozen O’Connor law firm.


Complaint – Bridges v. Wetzel