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Tate v. Parks

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

January 9, 2019

ALBERT STEVEN TATE, Plaintiff,
v.
MAJOR BRIAN PARKS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAMELA MEADE SARGENT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Albert Steven Tate, (“Tate”), an inmate previously housed in the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail, (“SWVRJ”), in Duffield, Virginia, (“the Jail”), [1] filed this case, pro se, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. By Amended Complaint, (Docket Item No. 32), [2] Tate sues SWVRJ employee Major Brian Parks, [3] Chief of Security at the Jail.

         This matter is before the court on the Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment, (Docket Item No. 39) (“Motion”). The plaintiff has responded to the Motion, (Docket Item No. 59), [4] and the defendant has filed a reply, (Docket Item No. 63). Therefore, the Motion is ripe for decision.

         I. Facts [5]

         In his Amended Complaint and response to the Motion, Tate alleges various constitutional violations, including violations of his procedural due process rights and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and violations of his First Amendment rights.

         The undisputed facts in this case are as follows. Tate was transferred to the Jail on August 4, 2016, and placed in segregation as a pretrial detainee while awaiting trial on charges of rape, sexual assault and forcible sodomy out of the Circuit Court in Scott County, Virginia. (Docket Item No. 40-1 at 2.) On or about August 15, 2016, he sent a coded letter to his wife, outlining an escape plan and seeking her assistance to escape custody during an upcoming bond hearing at the Scott County Circuit Court. (Docket Item No. 40-2 at 2-7.) Tate's wife refused to help with this attempt. The Commonwealth's Attorney for Scott County was alerted to the escape plan, and Tate was confronted with this letter at a September 8, 2016, bond hearing. Tate does not dispute that he wrote the letter. He was charged with felony attempted prisoner escape in Scott County Circuit Court, to which he ultimately pleaded guilty on May 26, 2017. (Docket Item No. 40-2 at 11-17; Docket Item No. 40-4 at 2-5.) Upon his return to the Jail following the September 8 bond hearing, Tate was placed in the Special Housing Unit, (“SHU”), in administrative segregation. (Docket Item No. 40-1 at 3.) As a result of Tate's use of the mail to aid in his attempted escape plan, the Jail began to inspect his outgoing nonlegal mail. (Docket Item No. 40-1 at 2.) On January 25, 2018, Tate pleaded guilty to the crimes for which he was originally being held at the Jail, and on January 30, 2018, he was sentenced for these crimes. (Docket Item No. 40-1 at 3.) On February 2, 2018, Tate was removed from the SHU to maximum security housing. (Docket Item No. 40-1 at 3.) He was thereafter transferred to the Virginia Department of Corrections on April 26, 2018. (Docket Item No. 40-1 at 2.)

         In support of his claims, Tate has supplied the court with several Request For Information forms, (hereafter, “Request(s)”), directed to various individuals, including Defendant Parks. Tate alleges that, as a pretrial detainee at the Jail, he had a right under the Fourteenth Amendment to be free of any type of punishment. In his Amended Complaint, he states that when he was transferred to the Jail on August 4, 2016, as a pretrial detainee, he was placed in segregation without any explanation. He further alleges that, on September 8, 2016, after returning from the bond hearing, he was placed in administrative segregation in the SHU as a form of punishment for the alleged escape attempt, all while still a pretrial detainee. On October 5, 2016, Tate sent Parks a Request about being moved out of “protective custody” and into a pod. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 1.) Parks responded on October 7, 2016, stating that Tate was not on protective custody, but in the SHU, as the result of an administrative decision based on the attempted escape charge, which made him a security threat. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 1.) Also on October 7, 2016, Tate sent Parks another Request, asking for access to the “computer” to research case specifics regarding his alleged charges. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 2.) Parks responded on October 11, 2016, stating that, in the SHU, Tate could have access to Black's Law Dictionary. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 2.) On October 13, 2016, Tate sent a Request to Parks, inquiring why he remained in the SHU, as a security threat, when another inmate received a plea deal for escape charges and was transferred out of the SHU. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 5.) Parks responded on October 18, 2016, that he could not discuss another inmate's housing assignment or circumstances with Tate. Parks further advised Tate that Tate had a pending escape charge and that his situation may be reevaluated once he was found either innocent or guilty thereof. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 5.) On January 31, 2017, Tate sent at Request to Parks asking for the same privileges as inmates in another housing unit, including television, paper, commissary, books and “2 hours out time.” (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 8.) On February 1, 2017, Parks responded that inmates housed in the SHU, regardless of the reason, are all subject to the same restrictions. On June 4, 2017, Tate sent a Request to Counselor Hill, asking that the law library be brought to the sallyport door to allow him access to it. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 3.) Counselor Hill responded on June 5, 2017, that the law library was not available in “8B, ” where Tate was housed, but advised him that he may use Black's Law Dictionary by requesting it from Lt. Hayes. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 3.) Also on June 4, 2017, Tate sent a Request to Parks, stating he had a constitutional right to access to the law library. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 4.) He requested again that the “computer” be brought to the sallyport area. Parks responded on June 8, 2017, advising him to contact Counselor Hill. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 4.)

         On May 10, 2017, Tate sent a Request regarding changing his housing status since there were inmates convicted of escape housed in the work pod. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 11.) Parks responded on May 15, 2017, stating that Tate's escape charge was not a housing charge, but that he was charged criminally in Scott County Virginia. He further stated that as long as Tate was housed in the SHU, he was subject to any and all restrictions placed on other inmates. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 11.) On May 12, 2017, Tate sent a Request to Parks, asking that if Tate required a higher security status and was such a threat, why were other inmates, who had been charged with escape and “pending escape, ” whom he specifically named, allowed to be housed in the work pod, minimum, medium and maximum housing units. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 14.) On May 15, 2017, Parks responded that he could only speak to Tate regarding his situation, and he could not discuss other inmates with Tate. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 14.) On May 18, 2017, Tate sent another Request to Parks, stating that there were other inmates with escape charges out of Scott County who were housed in other pods. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 15.) Tate asked why he was being kept in the SHU. On May 22, 2017, Parks responded, advising Tate that it was his own actions which placed him in the SHU and which ensured that he would remain incarcerated until the judge either released him or he had served whatever sentence he ultimately received. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 15.) He further advised Tate that he had an obligation to provide and promote public safety. Also on May 22, 2017, Parks advised Tate that either he or Major George Hembree would decide when, or if, Tate would be moved out of the SHU. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 17.) On May 26, 2017, Parks informed Tate that it had been explained to him why he was housed in the SHU. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 18.) Parks further stated that the SHU is different than maximum housing. He also stated that he, as Chief of Security, made the determination regarding Tate's housing status and that Tate would be notified when a change occurred. On June 2, 2017, Parks stated that there was no timeline for how long Tate would remain in the SHU on administrative segregation, but when it changed, Tate would be notified. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 21.)

         In a May 26, 2017, Request to “Mail, ” Tate stated that on the back of an envelope of a piece of his mail, it was stamped as follows: “This outgoing mail has not been censored or searched by the SWVRJA, ” and he asked if this was correct. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 29.) The response on May 30, 2017, was that this was correct and that all outgoing mail is stamped. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 29.) In another Request to “Inmate Accounts / Mail, ” on May 30, 2017, Tate asked why, if the envelopes are so stamped, was his mail opened and copies made when he did not get an order from the judge in a search warrant, thereby making the stamp a lie. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 30.) In a response, dated May 31, 2017, it is stated that mail is not illegally tampered with. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 30.) While Tate sent another Request to “Inmate Accounts / Mail, ” dated May 31, 2017, it is unclear exactly what he is seeking. It appears, however, that he is disputing that his outgoing mail was not tampered with. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 31.) On June 2, 2017, the response[6] states that no rights were violated. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 31.) In his Amended Complaint, Tate states that the Commonwealth's Attorney handed him a letter during court which stated on both the front and back “Rec'd 5-25-17.” However, this letter had not been processed by the United States Postal Service. Also, Tate stated that the back of the letter had not been stamped by the Jail. Tate alleges that, in a court response, Parks stated that it was the recipient who had taken the letter to the Commonwealth's Attorney and copied it for them, which, according to Tate, would not be possible since the letter had no proof of being scanned and delivered by the United States Postal Service. On June 12, 2017, Parks responded to a Request, asking why outgoing mail was opened and resealed, then stamped “the contents have not been searched by SWVRJA.” (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 32.) Parks stated that no laws were violated and that mail was not searched. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 32.) He further stated that outgoing mail is considered property of SWVRJA until it is delivered to the United States Post Office. (Docket Item No. 59-1 at 32.)

         In support of his Motion, Parks has submitted an affidavit from Jeannie Patrick, (Docket Item No. 40-1, “Patrick Affidavit”), the Administrative Lieutenant at the Jail. According to Patrick, administrative special housing is not a punitive or disciplinary measure. (Patrick Affidavit at 1.) Instead, administrative special housing is utilized if an inmate is pending investigation of a serious violation of facility rules, poses a security threat to the facility or other inmates, is pending investigation for a criminal act while incarcerated as an inmate in the facility, requires admission to ensure the inmate's protection (at the request of the inmate or based on the staff's determination), is pending transfer to another facility or return to the participating jurisdiction or has been classified as needing more intense supervision due to behavior. (Patrick Affidavit at 1-2.) Tate was housed at the Jail from August 4, 2016, until April 26, 2018, when he was transferred to the Virginia Department of Corrections. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.) Tate was housed at the Jail on criminal charges of rape, sexual assault and forcible sodomy in Scott County Circuit Court. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.) On or about August 15, 2016, Tate sent a letter to his wife, which included requests, in code, for her to assist him in escaping from custody. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.) This letter was forwarded by Tate's wife to the Scott County Commonwealth's Attorney. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.) The Jail did not censor, delete, redact, alter or otherwise fail to deliver any of Tate's legal or nonlegal mail. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.) As a result of Tate's escape attempt and use of the mail to facilitate this attempted escape, all of Tate's nonlegal mail was inspected prior to being placed in the mail. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.) Defendant Parks is not personally involved in the inspection of Tate's or any other inmate's mail. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.)

         On September 8, 2016, a bond hearing was held in Tate's criminal case. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.) As a result of Tate's escape plan, he was charged with attempted felony prisoner escape, to which he ultimately pleaded guilty on May 26, 2017. (Patrick Affidavit at 2.)

         The Jail uses a points-based classification system to determine an inmate's security classification. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) All inmates are administratively classified using this points-based system. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) The system takes into account the severity of the inmate's current charges, serious offense history, escape history, institutional disciplinary history, prior felony convictions, alcohol or drug abuse history and stability factors. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) Tate's points-based security classification placed him in the highest classification level of “maximum.” (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) In conjunction with his security classification of maximum, Tate's escape attempt necessitated his housing in administrative special housing, as he was deemed to be an escape risk and a security threat, warranting additional supervision provided there. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.)

         On February 27, 2017, Tate was ordered to mental health treatment after the Scott County Circuit Court found him incompetent to stand trial. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) He was housed at the State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, from March 7, 2017, until April 14, 2017, when he returned to the Jail. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) Tate was housed in medical housing from April 18 until April 19, 2017, for suicidal gestures and/or ideations. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) On September 3, 2017, Tate's cell was searched in accordance with Jail policy. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) The search revealed that Tate was in possession of tobacco and three Suboxone pills, the possession of which is a violation of the inmate code of conduct and Jail rules. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) On January 25, 2018, Tate pleaded guilty to the initial criminal charges of rape, sexual assault and forcible sodomy and was sentenced on January 30, 2018. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.) Following Tate's guilty pleas and sentencing, an administrative classification evaluation resulted in him being taken off of administrative special housing status on February 2, 2018. (Patrick Affidavit at 3.)

         II. ...


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