Court backs inmate’s rights suit
A state parole officer who ordered religious substance abuse treatment for a Buddhist drug addict had enough information to know he was violating the man's First Amendment rights, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
A three-judge appeals panel overturned a 2005 lower court's decision that had cleared parole officer Mark Nanamori from a lawsuit filed by Ricky Inouye, a methamphetamine user who has since died.
In that ruling, U.S. District Judge David Ezra agreed that Inouye's religious rights were breached. But he also sided with Nanamori, who argued the law was unclear and that he was just doing his job.
In its 19-page decision, however, the appeals court found that Nanamori should have known what he did was wrong, and concluded the case should go to trial.
It noted Inouye, who is now being represented by his son Zenn, had previously sued the state while in prison in 2000 over his placement in religious-based drug treatments. Before his release, Inouye even wrote a letter to the Hawaii Paroling Authority asking for a narcotics program free of "religious content," according to the opinion.
But in March 2001, when Inouye was arrested for trespassing and later tested positive for drugs, he was required to enroll in the Salvation Army's Addiction Treatment Services, which both parties in the suit agreed is "rooted in religious faith," according to the court. Inouye eventually sued Nanamori for monetary damages when his parole was revoked to punish him for pulling out of the AA program after a few months.
"Given all this, Nanamori's mistake as to the law was not reasonable," Judge Marsha Berzon wrote. "An officer in Nanamori's position ... should not have reasonably repeated the same mistake."
The AA's 12-step rehabilitation program, which makes regular references to God and entails prayers, conflicted with Inouye's religion by telling him that he was helpless and that only some higher power could have saved him, said his attorney, Walter Schoettle. He said his client believed "his addiction was his own responsibility."
"They were adding stress upon stress to him by sticking him into a program that is telling him he's got to do the exact opposite," Schoettle said.
State Deputy Attorney General Kendall Moser declined comment, saying officials were still reviewing the opinion.
The state has contracts with about a dozen substance abuse treatment providers, including the Salvation Army, said Max Otani, acting administrator of the Hawaii Paroling Authority. He could not say how many of an estimated 2,200 Hawaii parolees serving their terms here and on the mainland attend those programs, but he said all religious providers are revising their focus to avoid similar legal challenges.
"If it's brought to our attention the programs are still religious-based and the parolee has a problem with that, we'll take a look at it," Otani said.
Nanamori remains employed by the authority on Oahu, he said.