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Barnes v. Johnson

United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Charlottesville Division

July 23, 2014

FAYE BARNES, Plaintiff,
GENE JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.


Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

This case is presently before the court following a two-day bench trial. Faye Barnes, a former inmate of the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (“Fluvanna”), filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendant, former Corrections Lieutenant Johnathan Bland, used excessive force against her while she was incarcerated, in violation of the plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment rights.[*] Finding that the plaintiff failed to prove her case by a preponderance of the evidence, the court will rule in favor of the defendant.

Procedural Background

The plaintiff filed her first amended complaint on October 11, 2012. Although the defendant was personally served with a summons and copy of the complaint, he failed to file a responsive pleading as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. By court order, a Clerk’s Entry of Default was entered against the defendant on August 21, 2013. For good cause shown, the court later set aside the entry of default. With leave of court, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment to which the plaintiff responded. Finding several genuine disputes of material fact, the court denied the defendant’s motion. The parties waived conduct of a trial by jury, and a two-day bench trial was held on July 15, 2014 and July 16, 2014.

Summary of the Evidence

In addition to the plaintiff’s disciplinary records, informal complaints, and medical records from Fluvanna, the plaintiff’s medical bills, and several letters from the plaintiff to her long-time friend, Dorothy Thomasson, the evidence introduced at trial consisted of testimony from ten witnesses:

The plaintiff, Faye Barnes, testified that on September 30, 2010, while she was incarcerated in Building 5 at Fluvanna, she confronted her cellmate about touching her personal property. She explained that both women were removed from the cell as a result of the altercation. Ms. Barnes recalled being taken to Mr. Bland’s office, where he told her that he was going to lock her up. Ms. Barnes testified that Mr. Bland handcuffed her behind the back using one set of cuffs. She stated that she was five feet tall and weighed 250 pounds at the time, and explained that her arms are short. Ms. Barnes recalled that Mr. Bland had difficulty pulling her arms behind her back to make her wrists meet. She also recalled telling Mr. Bland during the handcuffing process, “Something’s not right, something’s wrong.” She felt a burning under her armpit, as if hot water were running from her neck to her lower back. Ms. Barnes testified that when she told Mr. Bland about the pain, he became frustrated, like she had gotten on his last nerve, and he told the plaintiff, “Ms. Barnes, I got this.”

Ms. Barnes recalled that two yard officers escorted her to the segregation unit in handcuffs. Ms. Barnes testified that upon her arrival to segregation, she was examined by Ms. Harlow, a registered nurse. She testified that she told Ms. Harlow about her arm pain but that Ms. Harlow instructed her to make a sick call request. Ms. Barnes further stated that she made such a request between October 1 and October 4, 2010, but acknowledged that no such request was reported in her medical file. Ms. Barnes recalled asking Ms. Harlow about why she didn’t have a medical profile allowing her to be cuffed in the front. After Ms. Harlow completed her medical evaluation, the plaintiff recalled being handcuffed behind the back again with one set of handcuffs. Ms. Barnes testified that she was handcuffed behind the back with one set of handcuffs on several occasions during her time in segregation. On most occasions the cuffing caused her pain, but one correctional officer was able to handcuff her using one set of cuffs without causing any discomfort. Although Ms. Barnes made additional complaints of pain and discomfort caused by handcuffing after she was put in segregation, her complaints attributed that pain to later cuffing incidents, rather than to her encounter with Mr. Bland.

Ms. Barnes further testified that prior to September 30, 2010, there was no “unpleasantness” between her and Mr. Bland. She explained that she had made verbal complaints to Mr. Bland about other officers committing sexual misconduct in her wing. She recalled that he listened to her and told her that he would take appropriate action. She believed that Mr. Bland was a decent person and trusted him to address the situation. Ms. Barnes testified that she did not know or suspect that Mr. Bland was also engaging in sexual misconduct and only learned that he was involved in such behavior at a later time.

The defendant, Johnathan Bland, testified that on September 30, 2010 he was the building lieutenant for Building 5. Mr. Bland recalled that on that date, he received notice of a loud disturbance in the plaintiff’s wing. He explained that both Ms. Barnes and her cellmate were removed from their cell to prevent the situation from escalating. Mr. Bland explained that he and his captain reviewed the rapid eye footage of the incident in which Ms. Barnes appeared to approach her cellmate in a threatening manner. He testified that as a result of this behavior, Ms. Barnes was assigned to the segregation unit. Mr. Bland stated that Ms. Barnes was not restrained when she was brought to his office to be interviewed following the altercation. Mr. Bland also testified that he did not handcuff Ms. Barnes at any point on September 30, 2010. He stated that as the building lieutenant, he would order his staff to handcuff an inmate when necessary. Mr. Bland recalled that Ms. Barnes was unrestrained when he left her with another officer so that he could speak with her cellmate in a separate office. Mr. Bland recalled that when he returned to his office, Ms. Barnes was waiting in the vestibule, but he could not recall whether she was handcuffed at that time. Mr. Bland testified that Ms. Barnes did not appear to be in pain. Despite a prison policy requiring offenders assigned to segregation to be restrained while outside of their cells, Mr. Bland admitted that he instructed the yard officers not to handcuff Ms. Barnes for transport across the yard. He did not know whether she was ultimately cuffed prior to transport.

Mr. Bland further testified that prior to September 30, 2010, he had a cordial relationship with Ms. Barnes. He did not recall Ms. Barnes complaining to him about the sexual misconduct occurring in her wing or threatening to bring the misconduct to the attention of prison supervisors. He admitted that he previously pled guilty to having inappropriate sexual contact with an inmate at Fluvanna. He testified that on September 30, 2010, Mr. Bland did not suspect that Ms. Barnes knew about his own inappropriate conduct.

Crystal Gravely, a Fluvanna inmate who served as Ms. Barnes’s aide beginning in November 2010, testified that she observed Ms. Barnes in constant neck pain. Sherine Wilson, a Fluvanna inmate who knew Ms. Barnes for many years, testified that Ms. Barnes’s physical condition and demeanor deteriorated significantly after her time in segregation.

Dr. R. Scott Graham, the plaintiff’s treating neurosurgeon, testified by deposition that he performed a discectomy on Ms. Barnes on March 7, 2012. In the course of his treatment, Dr. Graham was unable to determine the cause of Ms. Barnes’s neck injury. Dr. Terrance Baker, a family practitioner, opined by deposition that the technique used by correctional officers to handcuff the plaintiff with her hands behind her back significantly contributed to Ms. Barnes’s neck and shoulder injuries.

Dorothy Thomasson, Ms. Barnes’s long-time friend, testified that she and the plaintiff communicated by letter while the plaintiff was in segregation. In a letter from Ms. Barnes to Ms. Thomasson dated October 4, 2010, Ms. Barnes wrote: “You know, Dottie, the Lt. that locked me up had a childish gleam in his eyes. He looked like he had done something that will give him recognition. He was beside himself for nothing. He did it to get me out of the building . . . .” In that letter, Ms. Barnes did not complain that Mr. Bland had handcuffed her or that she ...

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