Mark Hayward's City Matters: Casanova vs. the Dynasty
You're not having a good day when you end up in jail.
The day's even worse when you break the rules and disobey a guard.
It's particularly bad when the guard moonlights as a mixed martial arts fighter with a 7-2 record and a nickname of "The Dynasty."
That was the situation of Daniel Casanova on Nov. 4, 2008, at Hillsborough County's Valley Street jail.
That day, Woodrow "The Dynasty" Weatherby "assisted" Casanova to the floor and restrained him with the help of a fellow corrections officer. Casanova ended up with a shattered knee.
Five years later, he brought his case before a U.S. District Court jury, claiming the rough and excessive treatment had violated his constitutional rights. His lawyer asked the jury to award a cash payment to Casanova.
"Everybody has rights, even Mr. Casanova, even if you have to wear a green (prison) jumpsuit to court," his lawyer, Kirk Simoneau, told the jury.
The lawyer for Weatherby, paid for by Hillsborough County, blamed Casanova. An inmate with a history of trouble, Casanova was where he shouldn't have been; he didn't drop to the floor when ordered to do so; he could have hurt Weatherby in a fight.
"(Corrections) officers in the jail do not have the luxury of waiting to see if an inmate will hit them," said John Curran, the lawyer arguing on Weatherby's behalf.
Throughout the trial, two prison guards sat behind Casanova. The sides of his head were shaved, and the thick hair at the crown of his head featured a small pony tail. He walked with a cane.
Casanova didn't get treatment for his leg for about two weeks, he said in the initial court suit he filed. It took Manchester police months to investigate his assault complaint, which they decided wasn't worthy of criminal charges.
He filed a civil lawsuit himself, and a federal judge ordered a lawyer be appointed for him, something that rarely happens when it comes to civil suits.
In November 2008, Casanova was housed in the lower level of 2B, the maximum-security wing of the Valley Street jail. When he got the opportunity, Casanova ran upstairs to the second level and heckled a locked-up inmate who had called him a "skinner,'' slang for a child molester.
Weatherby followed Casanova up the stairs and ordered him on the ground.
A video captured the incident. Fitting for this season of March Madness, the jury saw what happened, frame by frame. Casanova running up the stairs and shouting at a closed door. Weatherby approaching, pointing and speaking to Casanova. Casanova turning toward Weatherby. And then The Dynasty grabbing Casanova's arm, sweeping his right leg, and - in corrections officer parlance - assisting him to the floor.
In his report on the matter, Weatherby claimed Casanova had taken steps toward him and raised his fist as if to strike him.
The video showed Casanova taking a single, small step toward the approaching guard. He kept his hands at his side. Weatherby and other corrections officers insist his right fist was clenched at his side, but it is obscured in the video.
"I felt like it was raised at the time. It looked like he would raise it," Weatherby testified.
Casanova said he was never given a chance. Four seconds lapsed by the time he turned to face Weatherby and was brought to the ground, with a pain to his knee.
"My leg will never be the same with four screws in it, and the mental trauma I experienced can't be overstated," he wrote in his complaint. He says he suffers from a pronounced limp and chronic pain. Hillsborough County paid for Casanova's medical bills.
A wrestling website lists Weatherby as 6-foot, 1-inch, 185 pounds. In court last week, his wiry frame seemed lost in the folds and pinstripes of a loose-fitting suit. His body was tight; agitation kept his eyebrows at a downward plunge.
Weatherby worked at Valley Street for about five years. He quit once for four months, finally leaving his $14-an-hour job last December. His last fight was February 2011, and his current record is 8-5, according to Sherdog.com. Weatherby said he is retired from mixed martial arts.
Several uniformed corrections officers testified. All carried frames that betrayed more beef than bone. They testified that they receive some training but also rely on fighting skills they learned outside the jail - in the military, the boxing ring, or mixed martial arts cage fighting.
"It's hard for us to sit there and tell someone you can't use something you learned somewhere else," said Gifford Hiscoe, a captain at Valley Street.
The jury didn't know Casanova's seedy background. In 2008, he was awaiting trial on a charge that he tried to fondle a 10-year-old girl in a Nashua park. He is now doing 10 to 20 in state prison for another attempted molestation of a girl, who was 7 at the time.
Casanova's lawyer admitted his client broke the rules at Valley Street. "Mr. Casanova was punished for being an unruly, disobedient inmate, and he was punished violently," Simoneau said.
Weatherby's lawyer downplayed the video, and the inherent second-guessing that accompanies any replay.
"You have that in basketball, football. You don't have that luxury with 96 inmates in maximum security," Curran said.
As for the verdict? The jury got the case at 12:30 p.m. last Thursday, along with lunch. The six men and three women had their verdict an hour and 10 minutes later (about the time it takes for a long lunch).
No loot for Casanova. The Dynasty lives on.
Mark Hayward 's City Matters appears in the New Hampshire Union Leader and Union Leader.com on Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.