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Ford v. Gillenwater

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

September 25, 2017

MICHAEL M. FORD, Plaintiff,
v.
GREGORY T. GILLENWATER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.

         Michael M. Ford, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants failed to protect him, denied him due process, improperly responded to grievances and/or appeals, and retaliated against him for filing grievances. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Ford responded, making this matter ripe for disposition. In response to the motion for summary judgment, Ford also filed a motion to amend his allegations concerning his due process claim which the court will grant. In addition, the court previously granted defendants' motion for a protective order limiting discovery until the issue of qualified immunity is decided and, in doing so, limited the issues before the court solely to defendants' defense of qualified immunity. Having considered the record, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment must be dismissed in part, denied in part, and granted in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ford alleges that on March 22, 2016, while participating in recreational time in the general population unit at Wallens Ridge State Prison (Wallens Ridge), he was “assaulted by a group of known and documented gang members” that formed an “inescapable” ring around him while one member, “wielding an institutional made knife, ” approached him. Ford states that he “attempted to deflect and defend hi[m]self from the knife blows” as he “reacted out of fear for his life.” Despite his efforts, however, he was stabbed and “blinded” in his right eye. Ford states that he yelled for help “for at least a full minute” before he was stabbed in the eye. (Compl. 6, 10, Dkt. No. 1.)

         Ford alleges that after the stabbing in his eye, he was “immediately attacked” by seven to ten more gang members, two to three of whom also had knives. Ford states that he was “sever[ely] beaten” and stabbed four more times in the back. (Id.)

         Ford asserts that prior to this incident, defendants Warden Fleming and Chief of Security Anderson were “aware of the pervasive risk to the inmate population in regard to these gang initiated assaults, by the sheer number of which regularly occur throughout the institution.” Ford argues that Fleming and Anderson were deliberately indifferent to unsafe conditions and failed to protect him from the March 22, 2016 attack. (Compl. 7, 9.)

         Ford claims that the gymnasium area is a “known and troublesome spot” and a “repeated and reoccurring stage or platform for these gang planned assaults.” Ford states that “among the factors which contribute to the high occur[e]nce of these gang related inmate assaults[, ] especially in the gym area[, ] is a lack of supervision from staff.” “Specifically, he states that “there has never been a rec[reation] supervisor or correctional floor officer stationed in the gym in light of the serious threat of gang violence.” (Compl. 7.)

         Ford states that there is an observational tower located in the middle of the gymnasium. Ford alleges that institutional protocol mandates that “a second officer must occupy the booth or tower to assume an observational post and bear the responsibility of the gun[, ] which is used as a non[-]lethal (rubber bullets) de[-e]scalation method, ” but, that “there has never been a second officer placed there.” Ford claims that there is one officer in that tower, who is the “sole source of supervision for the entire gym area, ” but that officer is “positioned in the opposite side of the tower to a control panel which directly faces the medical dep[artment] and a breezeway which connects both sides of the prison.” This officer is tasked with opening and closing both gates to allow inmates and staff “from both sides of the yard” entry into the medical department and the breezeway. (Compl. 7-8.)

         Ford asserts that “another contributing factor” to the gang attacks is “the lack of strategically placed security cameras which actually function properly.” And, he claims that “among the ultimate factors” contributing to these assaults is “the failure to create or enforce a policy which would even offer the minimal amount of protection to the inmate population against repeated gang assaults.” (Compl. 8.)

         Ford argues that Wallens Ridge “has a culture that tolerates” gang attacks. By way of example, Ford explains that the gang attacks “are being carried out by known[, ] documented[, ] and instititonal[ly] recorded gang members” and, after these “brazen” attacks, the gang members are given “basic institution[al] infractions, ” which result in “average segregation time, ” after which they return straight back to general population.” He also states that the same individuals are committing these attacks “over and over” again. (Compl. 8-9.)

         Ford claims that during the attack on March 22, 2016, defendant Officer Gillenwater was assigned to the tower above the gymnasium. Although Gillenwater was tasked with providing supervision over the gymnasium, he was located on the “complete opposite side of the tower, ” which provided him “absolutely no way to observe the gymnasium area.” Ford alleges that while the attack on him went on for two to three minutes, Gillenwater “remained on the control panel[, ] completely abandoning all observational duties.” Ford argues that had Gillenwater not been “so careless” and if proper observational protocols had been followed, the attack “very likely” would not have happened or, at least, his injuries could have been minimized. (Compl. 9-10.)

         After the March 22, 2016 assault, Ford was taken to the Wallens Ridge medical department. The next day, he was taken to an outside emergency room. When he returned to Wallens Ridge, “partially blinded, ” he was admitted to the medical department for approximately four weeks, during which time he “partially regained sight.” When he was released from the medical department, he was placed in the segregation unit, in administrative segregation status, for approximately two months, during which time he and “members of the community” wrote “numerous” complaints and letters concerning “the institution being at fault” for his injuries, the “gang problems at Wallens Ridge, ” and the “tolerance” of Wallens Ridge's administration toward gang members. (Compl. 11-12.)

         On May 23, 2016, Ford was released from segregation. The next day, however, he was “abruptly placed back in segregation with no reasoning or explanation, except that it was based on [Warden Fleming's] direct orders.” Ford states that he had broken no rules and the only “provocation” for him being placed in segregation was his filing of grievances and letters concerning the incident and Wallens Ridge. Ford states that he was placed back in segregation in retaliation for him filing those grievances and letters. (Compl. 12-13.)

         Ford filed additional grievances complaining that his placement in segregation was based on retaliation, and on May 27, 2016, defendant Segregation Unit Manager Collins responded to a grievance and stated that Ford was “placed in segregation under investigation per Warden Fleming [and] the investigators w[ould] see [him] and address the issues.” Ford argues that his right to due process was violated when he was given no notice or hearing before being placed back in the segregation unit. ...


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