Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Harris v. Elam

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

March 21, 2018

ALEXANDER HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
MARCUS ELAM, ET AL., Defendants.

          ALEXANDER HARRIS, PRO SE PLAINTIFF; MARGARET H. O'SHEA, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, FOR DEFENDANTS.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES P. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Alexander Harris, a Virginia prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Harris claims that when prison officials used excessive force against him and after he filed a grievance about the incident, they retaliated by convicting him of a disciplinary infraction, in violation of his constitutional rights. The defendants have filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss.[1] Harris has responded and has also filed a Motion for Leave to Amend, along with a proposed amendment, which I have treated as a supplement to the initial Complaint. After review of the record, I will allow the amendment, but I conclude that the defendants' motion must be granted as to portions of the Complaint as amended.

         I.

         Harris' claims arise from events during his incarceration at River North Correctional Center (“River North”).[2] In the chow hall on June 5, 2016, Correctional Officer S. Williams told Harris “she heard someone say that he would kill or hurt one of [River North's] K-9's if it ever bit him.” Compl. 5, ECF No. 1. Harris denied making any such threat. After the meal, Harris was returning to his assigned building when Sergeant Jackson, with Correctional Officers Meadows, Lowe, and Williams, and K-9 Officer Morgan, [3] approached and ordered him to put his hands on the fence. Harris complied. When he “turned his head to ask what did he do, ” Lowe “suddenly grabbed Harris by the neck and threw him to the ground.” Id. at 6. Jackson ordered Morgan “to deploy his dog on Harris and while the K-9 attacked [and bit] Harris as he was on the ground, Sgt. Jackson began kicking Harris in his face and head.” Id. Harris states, generally, that he was “threaten[ed] for a hear say allegation and [he] was beaten and assaulted by both the staff and K-9 for no reason.” Compl. Harris Aff. 1, ECF No. 1-1. He “did not do anything to provoke . . . being assaulted and beaten by the named Defendants.” Id.

         The officers then placed Harris in handcuffs and shackles, “dragged” him to a segregation area and threw him into a “shower holding cell[ ].” Compl. 6, ECF No. 1. They ordered him to kneel for removal of the restraints, but his injuries prevented him from quickly complying. Jackson and Meadows “grabbed” Harris, threw him on the ground, and “punched and kicked [him].” Id.

         Citing this incident, Jackson charged Harris with a “105(a) Aggravated assault upon a non-offender” under Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) Operating Procedure (“OP”) 861.1 governing offender disciplinary actions. Id. The hearing officer “refused all of [Harris'] requests for witnesses and camera footage review, ” id., found him guilty of the offense, and penalized him with thirty days of disciplinary segregation, loss of 180 days of “Good Conduct Allowance or Equivalent Earned Sentence Credit, ” and restitution of $2009.95. Mot. Default J. Ex. 2, at 5, ECF No. 24-1. Shortly thereafter, Harris also learned that he would be transferred to a higher security prison.

         Harris filed numerous Informal Complaint forms about the officers who had assaulted him, “all of which went unanswered.” Compl. 7, ECF No. 1. On July 4, 2016, he filed a Regular Grievance, stating his intention to file “excessive force charges on Sgt. Jackson and C/O Lowe” for the assault on June 5. V.S. Attach., at 6, ECF No. 5. In it, Harris also stated, “‘I have to let you know' that I will name you in my § 1983. and for what reason if you don't file my grievance. so don[']t claim this is more than one issue.'. . . This Grievance is dealing with the issue of Sgt. Jackson and c/o Lowe using excessive force on me.” Id.

         On July 12, 2016, Harris was served with another disciplinary charge, a 112 offense, which is “demanding or receiving anything of value under threat of any kind, including by extortion or blackmail.” Am. Compl. Attach. Am. Particularized Statement of Facts and Claims, at 2, ECF No. 23-1. This charge was based on a report from K. Sheets, Office Service Assistant, who received Harris' Regular Grievance threatening that if she failed to accept it, Harris would name her in a § 1983 lawsuit. Lieutenant Blevins investigated the charge and placed Harris in pre-hearing detention, after deciding that Harris' statement in his grievance “constituted a valid threat to Sheets' life and safety, ” and “to persons, property, and [River North] institutional security.” Id.

         Blevins proposed a penalty offer of twenty-five days in disciplinary segregation, but Harris declined. At the hearing before Institutional Hearing Officer MacVean, Harris argued that by making the statement in the Regular Grievance, he was exercising his constitutional rights to free speech and access to courts, for which prison officials could not lawfully retaliate against him. MacVean did not consider this argument to be a sufficient defense, found Harris guilty of the offense, and penalized him with fifteen days of “Disciplinary Segregation” and “Loss of ALL SGT.” Am. Compl. Attach., at 2, ECF No. 23-2. During the disciplinary review process, Unit Manager Dowell, Warden J. F. Walrath, and Regional Administrator Marcus Elam upheld MacVean's decisions.

         In 2017, Harris was transferred to Sussex I State Prison. In October 2017, Elam overturned Harris' 105 disciplinary conviction for assaulting a nonoffender.

         Liberally construed, Harris' Complaint as amended alleges the following claims: (1) on June 5, 2016, Jackson, Meadows, Lowe, Williams, and Morgan used excessive force against Harris; (2) Sheets filed the disciplinary charge against Harris in retaliation for his exercise of his constitutional rights to free speech and access to courts, and Blevins, MacVean, Dowell, Walrath, and Elam participated in or failed to prevent or overturn the unlawful retaliatory disciplinary conviction. As relief, Harris seeks compensatory and punitive damages and costs. As additional relief on Claim 2, he seeks “declaratory injunctive relief” whereby the defendants are “enjoined from any and all further punishment against Harris in regards to him exercising his 1st Amendment Rights on July 12, 2016.” Am. Compl. Attach. Am. Particularized Statement of Facts and Claims, at 6, ECF No. 23-1.

         II.

         A. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.