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Bush v. Owobu

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 16, 2016

NICHOLAS BUSH, Plaintiff,
v.
EMMANUEL OWOBU, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Nicholas Bush, a State of Maryland inmate currently confined at the Western Correctional Institution (“WCI”) in Cumberland, Maryland, alleges that on June 11, 2014, while incarcerated at the Jessup Correctional Institution (“JCI”), in Jessup, Maryland, his left hand was on the “feed up slot” in his cell door when Officer Emmanuel Owobu closed the slot, injuring Bush’s hand. Bush asserts that the JCI handbook states that inmates are to be free from abuse and that inmates are not to be subjected to corporal punishment, personal abuse or personal injury.

Defendant Emmanuel Owobu asserts that Bush interfered with Owobu while Owobu was securing the “feed up slots” on Bush’s housing tier. He indicates that he was injured by Bush when attempting to close the slot by Bush forcefully pushing the feed up slot open. Thereafter, Owobu notes that he only used the amount of force necessary to close the slot and that Bush was not standing near the slot when he closed and locked it.

Presently pending before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 22. Bush has not responded.[1] Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

I. Incident on January 11, 2014

Officer Owobu was assigned as the A and B wings officer of the Special Confinement Housing Unit B Building at JCI on January 11, 2014. ECF No. 22-3, p. 3; ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 4. Part of Owobu’s duties included securing and locking the feed up slots on the tier after meals were served. ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 4; ECF No. 22-10, ¶ 8. Chief of Security Allen Gang describes a feed up slot as a rectangular security panel in the metal cell door. The slot opens to permit staff access to the inmate without having to open the door. ECF No. 22-10, ¶4. The feed up slot is a passage between the inmate inside the cell and staff outside the cell allowing for the receipt of food or administration of medication, and for the application and removal of the inmate’s handcuffs. Id. The feed up slot must be secured and locked after meal trays are retrieved because an open slot poses a security risk on the tier. Id., ¶ 5. While the feed up slot is being secured and locked, an inmate is prohibited from holding, pushing or kicking the slot. Id., ¶ 6. The feed up slot cannot mechanically be secured and locked if an inmate’s hand is inside the slot. Id.

On the morning of January 11, 2014, the inmates were served breakfast in their cells and thereafter an inmate worker retrieved the inmates’ food trays through the feed up slots. ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 5; ECF No. 22-9, at 6:08. Owobu then began securing and locking the feed up slots. ECF No. 22-9, at 6:10; ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 5. As Owobu began closing Bush’s feed up slot, Bush forcefully pushed the slot out, hitting Owobu’s left palm and injuring Owobu’s thumb. ECF No. 22-3, p. 4; ECF No. 22-8, pp. 5-8; ECF No. 22-11, ¶6.

Owobu avers that after he was injured Bush began celebrating in his cell stating “I got him. I got him.” ECF No. 22-6, p. 1; ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 6. Owobu then used his uninjured hand to close and secure the feed up slot. ECF No. 22-9, at 6:11; ECF No. 22-11, ¶7. Owobu avers that the feed up slot was secured and locked without incident. ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 7. Thereafter Owobu notified the Officer in Charge of the tier, Sergeant Kevin Eberhardt, of the incident. ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 8; ECF No. 22-3, p. 4; ECF No. 22-10, ¶10. Eberhardt directed Owobu to step off of the tier and proceed for a medical evaluation, and the incident was referred to Duty Supervisor Lieutenant Carlie Nelson. ECF No. 22-5, pp. 3-4; ECF No. 22-3, pp. 3-4.

Bush was interviewed regarding his complaint that Owobu had pushed the slot closed on his finger, and he was evaluated in the medical department. ECF No. 22-3, p. 4; ECF No. 22-5, pp. 1-3; ECF No. 22-12, p. 2.

A Serious Incident Report was prepared on the date of the incident by Captain Kevin Hight. ECF No. 22-4, pp. 1-3. The Internal Investigative Unit (“IIU”) was notified of the incident. ECF No. 22-3, p. 4; ECF No. 22-5, pp. 1-3. Captain Francine Davis was assigned to investigate the case. ECF No. 22-3, p. 2. Davis noted that she reviewed the video surveillance which showed Owobu attempting to close the feed up slot in a “forceful[] manner, ” but the video did not give a clear view of the inmate and his actions. ECF No. 22-3, p. 4; ECF No. 22-9, at 6:11. Owobu avers that he needed to exert more effort to close the slot because he was only able to use his uninjured hand. ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 7. Security Chief Gang asserts that it is possible that Owobu spontaneously closed the feed up slot using his uninjured hand in an effort to complete his duty of securing the feed up slots on the tier before notifying his superior of the incident. ECF No. 22-10, ¶ 9. Gang also notes that generally an officer uses both hands to lock the feed up slot. Id.

Bush provided written statements regarding the incident and admitted he purposefully held the feed up slot open. ECF No. 22-7, pp. 1-2. In his first statement, given on January 11, 2014, Bush claimed he did not injure Owobu and wanted to file charges against Owobu. Id., p. 1. In his second statement, provided on March 4, 2014, Bush admitted he saw Owobu trying to close the feed up slot but stated that he told Owobu to “hold on” and put his hand on the slot and pushed the slot which must have hit Owobu’s hand. Id., p. 2. Bush was interviewed by Captain Davis and stated that he pushed the slot open and it was possible that he hit Owobu’s hand. ECF No. 22-3, p. 4. Bush also claimed that he was injured during the closing of the slot. ECF No. 1, p. 8. Bush claimed that he was trying to throw trash on to the tier when Owobu pushed the feed up slot closed, injuring Bush’s finger. ECF No. 22-7, pp. 1-2.

Owobu denies injuring Bush as alleged. He avers that he did not observe Bush standing near the cell door when he closed and locked the slot. ECF No. 22-11, ¶ 7. Owobu further claims that at no time while closing and locking the feed up slot did he observe Bush’s hand in the slot. Id.

Guidelines have been promulgated for an officer to follow to defuse and deescalate a situation where an inmate holds the feed up slot open or pushes the slot to harm an officer. ECF No. 22-10, ¶ 7. However, in circumstances where the inmate’s non-compliant behavior would cause personal injury or breach the facility’s security, an officer may apply an appropriate level of force without approval. Officers are not required to risk personal safety before force is applied. Id. At the conclusion of the IIU investigation, Davis recommended the case be closed. ECF No. 22-3, p. 4.

II. Rule Violation

As a result of the incident, Bush was served with a Notice of Inmate Rule Violation charging him with committing assault or battery on staff. ECF No. 22-6. Bush appeared before Hearing Officer John Sandstrom on February 25, 2014. ECF No. 22-13, p. 1. Bush testified at the hearing that, “I was pushing the slot with my left hand...sometimes it sticks...I was pushing it and the slot must have fell and hit the officer...I saw the officer holding his hand...the officer tried to close the slot again...I said hold on...the officer slammed the slot on my hand. The officer was covering up himself and said I kicked the slot.” Id., p. 2. Bush was found guilty of the rule violation and sentenced to 365 days of segregation, and 365 ...


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