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Miller v. Clarke

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

October 26, 2016

Edwin Miller, Plaintiff,
v.
Harold W. Clarke, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Anthony J. Trenga United States District Judge

         Edwin Miller, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that officials at the Sussex I State Prison ("SISP") violated his constitutional rights. Defendants, Sergeant Ricks, Officer Stephenson, Officer Saucedo, and Lieutenant Curry, have now filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, a memorandum of law, and affidavits to support their motion. Dkt. Nos. 64, 65, 66. Plaintiff received the Notice required by Local Rule 7(K) and the opportunity to file responsive materials pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), and he has filed a response. For the reasons that follow, defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted, and the claims against Officer C.W. Cook must be dismissed, without prejudice.

         I. Undisputed Factual Background

         On February 15, 2014, at approximately 9:40 a.m., Correctional Officers Cook and Saucedo were escorting plaintiff to his housing unit, Building 3, from an outside recreational area that consisted of individual, fenced-in areas. Dkt. No. 65, Ex. I ("Saucedo Aff.") ¶ 4. Prior to being escorted to the housing unit, while he was still in the recreational area, plaintiff was restrained with leg irons and his hands were cuffed behind his back. Id. When Cook and Saucedo removed plaintiff from his recreational area, they locked the door. Id. As they began to escort plaintiff to his housing unit, plaintiff attempted to pass a note to another offender who was in another recreational area nearby. Id. Cook directed plaintiff to stop and pulled plaintiff away from the other offender. Id. At that point, it appeared that plaintiff became agitated; however, Cook and Saucedo continued to escort plaintiff away from the recreational area to the housing unit. Id.

         Once inside the housing unit, as the officers were ascending a set of stairs with plaintiff, Cook called Lieutenant Curry and asked Curry to come to the housing unit. Dkt. No. 65, Ex. III ("Curry Aff.") ¶ 4. Curry told Cook that he was on his way, and he began to head toward the 3C pod together with Sergeant Ricks. Id.

         At the same time, before Cook and Saucedo arrived at plaintiffs cell, Cook retrieved a can of OC spray (a.k.a. pepper spray) from Correctional Officer Stephenson, who was working in the 3C/3D control room at that time. Dkt. No. 65, Ex. II ("Stephenson Aff.") ¶ 4. In Stephenson's Incident Report dated February 15, 2014, she stated, "Saucedo came to the booth to get a can of OC." Id.; see also Stephenson Aff., En. A. Stephenson does not specifically remember if she in fact gave the OC spray can to Saucedo or Cook, but she remembers handing it to one of them on that date. Stephenson Aff. ¶ 5.

         As the control room officer, Stephenson was responsible for opening and closing the cell doors when offenders entered and exited their cells. Id. ¶ 4. When Cook and Saucedo arrived at plaintiffs cell, 3C-02, with plaintiff, Stephenson opened the door, and the officers directed plaintiff inside his cell. Saucedo Aff. ¶ 5; Stephenson Aff. ¶ 4. Saucedo then removed plaintiffs leg irons, and Stephenson subsequently closed the cell door. Id. At that point, Saucedo opened the cell door's tray slot, and plaintiff backed up against the tray slot so that his handcuffs could be removed through the slot. Id. Saucedo held onto the handcuffs with his right hand and instructed plaintiff to lower himself a bit so that Saucedo could put the key into each of the cuffs in order to remove them. Id. Plaintiff complied. Id. Saucedo then removed the handcuff from plaintiff s left hand and closed the cuff, holding the removed cuff in his right hand. Id.; Dkt. No. 8 ("Am. Compl.") (acknowledging that "Officer Saucedo was having a hard time" removing the cuffs). Then, as Saucedo began to remove the right cuff, plaintiff jerked away, pulling Saucedo's right hand and arm into the tray slot. Saucedo Aff. ¶ 5; Stephenson Aff. ¶ 4. Saucedo instantly pulled plaintiff back toward the slot, gripping the removed cuff and instructing plaintiff to stop and give up the handcuffs, but plaintiff jerked away again, staying, "No." Id.

         As plaintiff was defying Saucedo's instructions, Saucedo continued to hold onto the removed left handcuff to prevent plaintiff from pulling the cuffs completely into the cell. Id. Additionally, in order to regain control over plaintiff and the handcuffs, Saucedo told Cook to administer OC spray. Id. Cook sprayed plaintiff with OC spray through the tray slot. Id. The first two bursts of spray hit plaintiffs shirt while Saucedo continued ordering plaintiff to give him the handcuffs. Id. Again, plaintiff was defiant, stating "No" and pulling on the handcuffs away from Saucedo further into the cell. Id.; see also Am. Compl. at 22 (plaintiff referred to this as a "tugging match"). Cook then administered a third burst of OC spray into the cell, this time spraying plaintiff in the eye area. Id. At that point, plaintiff complied with the officer's orders and allowed Saucedo to fully remove the handcuffs. Id. Once the OC spray had been administered and Saucedo had removed plaintiffs cuffs, Saucedo noticed that, due to rough contact with the top of the tray slot while plaintiff had been pulling on the cuffs, his right hand was cut and bleeding. Saucedo Aff. ¶ 5.

         During the course of the commotion, while on his way to the pod, Curry called Stephenson to find out what was happening. Stephenson Aff. ¶ 5; Curry Aff. ¶ 4. Stephenson informed Curry that Cook had administered OC spray in plaintiffs cell. Id. Soon after, Curry and Ricks arrived at plaintiffs cell. Saucedo Aff. ¶ 5; Curry Aff. ¶ 4. Curry and Ricks removed plaintiff from his cell and escorted him to the shower for OC spray decontamination. Id. At the same time, Curry instructed Saucedo to go to the medical department to have his bleeding hand examined and treated. Id. In addition, Curry asked plaintiff whether he wanted to go to the medical department, and plaintiff refused. Curry Aff. ¶ 4. Finally, Curry instructed Stephenson to call the power plant and have them turn on the exhaust system in 3C to decontaminate the pod. Id.

         At approximately 10:30 a.m., Ricks and Curry placed plaintiff back into his cell that had been decontaminated from the use of OC spray - the incident was effectively over. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Ricks and Curry knew that Cook and Saucedo had less than six (6) months of experience working as officers and should not have been authorized to work on the pod unsupervised. Am. Compl. at 22, 31.

         In his amended complaint, plaintiff makes the following relevant claims:

1. Saucedo failed to follow jail policy and procedure when he did not use a tether during the removal of plaintiff s handcuffs, and he used excessive force against plaintiff in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
2. Stephenson knew that Saucedo and Cook's actions violated policies and procedures, and Stephenson did nothing to prevent the use of excessive force, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
3. Curry knowingly authorized Saucedo and Cook to work in the pod unsupervised even though they were inexperienced; therefore, he failed to protect plaintiff from the officers' actions and knew that the officers did not follow proper policies and procedures in regard to using OC spray and handling plaintiff.
4. Curry disregarded plaintiffs need for medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
5. Curry violated plaintiffs First Amendment right to free speech by complicating and rendering impossible the investigation of the incident and by hindering the ...

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