Two correctional officers sprayed Kevin Ward with pepper spray during an altercation in which Ward refused to comply with orders. The correctional officers sprayed Ward, a prisoner at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri, multiple times, initially when Ward refused to allow the officers to place him in handcuffs and again after a nurse determined Ward could endure more pepper spray.
Ward filed suit one month after the incident in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Ward alleged that the two correctional officers and the nurse violated his civil rights by using excessive force and by failing to provide him with medical care. Ward filed his complaint pro se, or without the assistance of a lawyer, and asked the trial court for appointed counsel three different times. There is no “constitutional or statutory right to appointed counsel” in civil cases. Nevertheless, Ward requested the assistance of counsel because he said he needed “counsel to assist with preparing his case for trial” and that he could not “litigate his case without professional assistance.” The district court denied each request. Ward appealed the denial to the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.