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Williams v. Still

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 2, 2016

ROMECO WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPT. DAVID STILL, et al, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORMAN K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Romeco Williams, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a verified complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Williams names several staff of the Red Onion State Prison ("ROSP") as defendants: Captain David Still, Lieutenant Justin Kiser, Sergeant Owens, and Correctional Officers ("C/O") Farmer, Brinkley, and Owens. Williams argues that defendants violated the Eighth Amendment by using excessive force and by restraining him in his own bodily wastes, and the Fourteenth Amendment by losing his personal property. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Williams responded, making this matter ripe for disposition.[1] Upon consideration of this action, I conclude that disputes of material facts preclude summary judgment for the excessive force claims, but defendants are entitled to summary judgment for all other claims.

I.

Williams was transferred to ROSP after he "assaulted [a corrections officer] . . . with a glove of urine" at a different prison. On October 28, 2014, Capt. Still, Lt. Kiser, Sgt. Owens, and C/Os Farmer and Brinkley escorted Williams from a transportation van into the intake area of ROSP. The parties dispute what happened next.

Williams claims that these officers began to beat him for several minutes while he was complacent and in multiple restraints, culminating in his "partial" unconsciousness after Lt. Kiser slammed his head into a wall while Williams was kneeling. Williams claims he was attacked due to defendants' alleged racism. Williams further asserts that Capt. Still threatened Williams with another beating if Williams did not refuse the post-transfer medical evaluation and that the other defendants twisted his fingers to keep him silent. He states that the spit-smock over his head, other restraints, and clothes hid any injuries from being seen.

In contrast, defendants aver that Williams became disorderly and head-butted C/O Farmer in the shoulder and collarbone and that C/Os Farmer and Brinkley secured Williams on the floor. After a video camera was delivered to the vestibule per Capt. Still and Lt. Riser's order, Sgt. Owens began video recording Williams, and C/O Farmer left for the medical department for an assessment of his shoulder. Defendants claims that Williams freely decided to refuse a nurse's exam.

The parties agree that Williams was then held in five-point restraints between 3:30 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. in ROSP's B building, but they disagree on the restraints' purpose.[2] Williams claims that the lie about head-butting C/O Farmer was used to justify the unnecessary five-point restraints and to "cover-up" the beating. Defendants claim that the five-point restraints were a necessary use of force to restore discipline after Williams attacked C/O Farmer. Once secured in five-point restraints, a nurse noted in a medical chart that she did not see any injury and that Williams did not mention any injury.

Williams further faults Capt. Still, Lt. Riser, Sgt. Owens, and C/Os Farmer and Brinkley for the conditions of confinement he experienced while in five-point restraints. Specifically, Williams states that he did not receive dinner and was not given a bathroom break until 10:00 p.m., resulting in him sitting in his own urine and feces for six and a half hours. Defendants aver that Capt. Still, Sgt. Owens, and C/Os Farmer and Brinkley had no responsibility for, or involvement with, Williams after he was secured in five-point restraints in the B building. Lt. Kiser, who was the B building supervisor, claims that he never refused to allow a bathroom break for Williams and that he left ROSP at 6:00 p.m. Lt. Kiser further claims that Williams should have been provided a restroom break between 3:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. and that the next shift's supervisors were responsible for Williams' care after 6:00 p.m.

After being released from five-point restraints, Williams claims that his personal property had been lost. However, Williams later received all the property he thought was lost.

II.

Williams seeks, inter alia, damages against Capt. Still, Lt. Kiser, Sgt. Owens, and C/Os Farmer and Brinkley for the alleged beating, for the use of five-point restraints, and for not giving him a meal or a bathroom break. Williams also seeks, inter alia, damages against C/O Owens for the misplaced property.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that, inter alia, they are protected by qualified immunity.[3] The defense of qualified immunity permits "government officials performing discretionary functions ... [to be] shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity balances "the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). A court considers two questions to resolve qualified immunity: whether the undisputed facts show that the government official's actions violated the plaintiffs constitutional rights, and whether the right at issue was "clearly established" at the time of the events. See, e.g., Id. at 236.

After reviewing Williams' submissions, I will grant in part defendants' motion for summary judgment as to C/O Owens for the property claim and as to the remaining defendants for the missed meal and bodily wastes claims. However, disputes of material facts preclude summary judgment for the claims about the alleged beating and use of ...


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