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Proctor v. Edmonds

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

June 27, 2019

ERIN D. PROCTOR, Plaintiff,
v.
LARRY T. EDMONDS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.

         Erin Proctor, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants violated his constitutional rights related to a disciplinary conviction. Defendants L. T. Edmonds, M. Washington, M. Smith, C. Davis, G. M. Hinkle, [1] L. J. Fleming, C. B. Sims, R. Woodson, and M. Walker filed a motion for summary judgment.[2] Having reviewed the record, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 6, 2017, Proctor was involved in an altercation with Officer Jefferson. Proctor contends that Officer Jefferson set up this altercation and a subsequent “false” misconduct charge, in an effort to retaliate against Proctor because Proctor threatened to file a complaint against Officer Jefferson for calling him a name. Proctor does not allege that the other defendants knew of Officer Jefferson's alleged misconduct. Following the altercation, Sergeant Smith charged Proctor with Attempt to Commit Aggravated Assault Upon a Non-Offender (105A/198B) for attempting to make physical contact with Officer Jefferson. Proctor was served the Disciplinary Offense Report (DOR) on April 26, 2017. The DOR described the charge based on Sgt. Smith's investigation. (Mem. Opp'n Summ. J. 2, Dkt. No. 34-1; Sims Aff., Encl. A, Dkt. No. 28-1).

         The DOR advised Proctor of his rights under Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) Operating Procedure (OP) 861.1 in preparing for and appearing at his disciplinary hearing, including the right to an advisor, the right to request witnesses and documentary evidence, the right to a 24-hour notice prior to the hearing, the right to be present and to question witnesses, the right to enter into a penalty offer, and the right to remain silent. The DOR also instructs: “You may be found guilty of a lesser-included offense code, in accordance with operating procedure 861.1.” Proctor signed the DOR, indicating that he had received the DOR and read the notice provisions. Proctor was then provided a penalty offer, which he declined. (Sims Aff., Encl. A).

         On May 1, 2017, Proctor filed witness request forms, reporting officer response forms, and documentary evidence request forms.[3] Proctor sought witness statements from two inmates, Brown and “Call him Mack, ” as well as Sergeant Jackson, Officer Jones, Officer Jefferson, Lieutenant Swann, and Officer White. Hearing Officer Sims denied the witness request forms because Proctor “failed to give the required information, ” omitting a description of each of the witnesses' knowledge of the incident. There is debate amongst the parties as to whether Proctor properly completed the witness request forms and if the defendants “white[d] out” Proctor's statements. (Sims Aff. 2; Proctor Aff. 4, Dkt. No. 34-2).

         Proctor also submitted a documentary evidence request form, seeking the rapid-eye video footage and copies of the incident reports filed by Officer Jones and Sgt. Jackson. HO Sims denied Proctor's request for both the video footage and the incident reports for security reasons. (Sims Aff. 2).

         On May 10, 2017, HO Sims conducted the hearing. At the hearing, Sgt. Smith testified to the steps he took during the investigation, including viewing the video footage, reviewing the incident reports, and interviewing Officer Jones and Sgt. Jackson. Proctor cross-examined Sgt. Smith. Because of the “seriousness of the charge, ” HO Sims acknowledged that it would be helpful to hear from Officer Jones and Sgt. Jackson, even though Proctor did not properly complete the witness request forms. Because Officer Jones and Sgt. Jackson were unavailable, HO Sims suggested adjourning the hearing until May 17, 2017. Proctor consented to the continuation. On May 17, 2017, Officer Jones and Sgt. Jackson testified and Proctor was given an opportunity to cross-examine them. (Hr'g R., Dkt. No. 31; Sims Aff. 1-3).

         HO Sims found Proctor guilty of Attempting to Commit Aggravated Assault Upon a Non-Offender and penalized Proctor with 30 days in disciplinary segregation and the loss of 120 days of good time credits. HO Sims based his decision on Sgt. Smith's investigation and Officer Jones and Sgt. Smith's hearing testimony. (Sims Aff. 3).

         Proctor was given a final report detailing the decision on May 30, 2017, and filed an appeal. Warden Edmonds reviewed the investigation, the video footage of the incident, and the recording of the disciplinary hearing. On June 14, 2017, Warden Edmonds responded to the appeal, finding that Proctor's “due process rights have not been violated.” Warden Edmonds also reduced Proctor's offense to the lesser-included Attempting to Commit Simple Assault Upon a Non-Offender (239A/238B). Proctor appealed Warden Edmonds' ruling, and Regional Administrator Fleming upheld Warden Edmonds' decision. (Edmonds Aff., Encl. B, Dkt. No. 28-2; Sims Aff. 4; Compl. 8, Dkt. No. 1).

         Proctor also submitted an informal complaint through the prison's grievance process following his altercation with Officer Jefferson. Captain Washington responded to the informal complaint on April 15, 2017, stating “your concern has been addressed.” Following Warden Edmonds' review of the disciplinary investigation, video evidence, and hearing recording, he upheld Capt. Washington's decision. Warden Edmonds specifically stated: “There is no evidence of Officer Jefferson assaulting you.” Warden Edmonds determined Proctor's grievance to be unfounded, and his opinion was upheld by Regional Administrator Hinkle. (Edmonds Aff., Encl. B).

         On June 16, 2017, following an Institutional Classification Authority (ICA) review, Proctor was transferred to Sussex I State Prison, a security level 5 facility. After Regional Administrator Fleming upheld the reduction in Proctor's offense, his good time credits and security level were adjusted accordingly. In September 2017, the ICA conducted an interim review of Proctor and recommended his transfer to a security level 3 facility. (Edmonds Aff. 3).

         In his complaint, Proctor sues Capt. Washington, Sgt. Smith, Assistant Davis, Regional Administrator Fleming, Regional Administrator Hinkle, Grievance Coordinator Walker, Regional Ombudsman Woodson, Warden Edmonds, Officer Jefferson, and HO Sims for alleged constitutional violations during the disciplinary proceedings. Liberally construed, Proctor's claims are that: (1) HO Sims and Sgt. Smith failed to call all of Proctor's witnesses and provide the requested documentary evidence; (2) HO Sims failed to hold the hearing in the time prescribed by VDOC policy; (3) Grievance Coordinator Walker and Regional Ombudsman Woodson denied Proctor access to courts; (4) Assistant Davis, Regional Administrator Fleming, and Regional Administrator Hinkle failed to properly respond to Proctor's grievances and disciplinary appeals; and (5) HO Sims ...


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