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Pennix v. Standford

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 16, 2017




         In response to the above-captioned civil rights complaint, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment. ECF 19. Plaintiff opposes the motion. ECF21. The Court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, shall be granted and judgment shall be entered in their favor.


         Plaintiff Willie Pennix is an inmate committed to the custody of the Maryland Division of Correction and confined at Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI). He alleges that on July 20, 2013, his cellmate, Stewart Partlow, stabbed him between 27 to 30 times. Pennix claims that prior to the date of his assault he informed Defendants Standford and Drummond that Partlow was a risk to his safety. Pennix states he asked not to be placed in the cell with Partlow when he was moved to the cell where Partlow was housed, but he was required to move in anyway. Pennix claims that Defendants failed to protect him from harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment. ECF 1 at p. 3.

         In response to the Complaint, Defendants admit that Pennix was stabbed multiple times by Partlow on January 28, 2014, and that he sustained multiple injuries which required his emergency transport to an area hospital for treatment. Defendants state, however, that there is no evidence that prior to the assault on Pennix, that Partlow presented a threat of harm to his safety. Rather, the investigation that was conducted immediately after the assault was discovered revealed that a disagreement had arisen between the two men on the morning of the incident and the assault occurred without warning. ECF 19 at Ex. 1.

         According to the information gathered in the investigation conducted by the Internal Investigation Division (IID) for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services that followed the assault, Pennix was found, at approximately 7:10 p.m., lying on the floor just outside of his assigned cell door, injured with multiple stab wounds. Id. at p. 2. Officer Nehemiah King was conducting rounds on the housing unit when an inmate told him that Pennix had been injured and that King should go to the second-floor tier to assist him. Id. at p. 5. King went to the second-level, found Pennix as described, immediately called for assistance over the radio, and asked Pennix what happened to him. Id. Pennix told King that his cellmate (Partlow) had stabbed him. Id.

         After responding officers arrived on the scene, King went to the dayroom to locate Partlow and discovered him in the shower, washing blood off of his body. Id. King ordered Partlow out of the shower and placed him in handcuffs without incident. Id.

         Pennix received initial first-aid assistance from a nurse who responded to the housing unit. Upon her arrival, she called for additional assistance and instructed correctional officers to call 911, due to the large amount of blood on the scene. ECF 19 at Ex. 1, p. 36. Pennix was loaded onto a gurney by correctional officers who had responded to the scene and moved to the medical unit. Id. Attempts were made to control the bleeding while the ambulance was en route to the prison. Id. Pennix was taken to Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC) where he was treated for approximately 13 stab wounds, none of which were life threatening but were treated as serious given the severity and the number of wounds sustained. Id. at p. 6. Six of the wounds Pennix sustained were to his head, five were to his back, one to his left arm, and one wound was sustained to his left shoulder. Id.

         The IID was contacted regarding the incident at 7:45 p.m. and the case was assigned to Detective Sergeant William Sage at 8:00 p.m.. ECF 19 at Ex. 1, p. 6. Sage arrived at PRMC at 9:00 p.m. to conduct an interview with Pennix, who informed Sage that at the time of the assault he was sitting on the toilet when Partlow entered the cell and stabbed him repeatedly with a "shank." Id. Sage states that Pennix told him that he had not had "serious prior issues with . . . Partlow in the past but he had a verbal altercation with [him] earlier in the day." Id. Sage further reports that Pennix told him he believed Partlow had been "messin" with his Playstation and that this was the cause of the verbal altercation. Id.

         Sage arrived at ECI at approximately 10:30 p.m. and reported to the housing unit where the assault took place, HU 3, A tier. ECF 19 at Ex. 1, p. 6. Pennix and Partlow occupied cell 46 and Sage noted that most of the blood was concentrated at the entrance of that cell. Id. After taking pictures of the scene, including the shower area where Partlow was discovered attempting to wash the blood from his body, Sage interviewed Officer King. Id. at pp. 6-7.

         King related that when he discovered Partlow in the shower he was wearing only gym shorts and black shoes. Id. at p. 7. When King was escorting Partlow to the medical unit he said that Partlow stated: "I told him to leave me alone. He kept bothering me." Id.

         Sage interviewed Partlow, advising him of his rights which Partlow waived. Id. Partlow related that he had assaulted Pennix because he felt Pennix was verbally abusive and that he was constantly accusing him of things. Id. Partlow further explained that on the day of the assault, Pennix accused him of using his Playstation and claimed Pennix had yelled at him for a long period of time. Id., Partlow claimed he could not take it any longer and planned to assault Pennix. Id. Partlow admitted to obtaining a "shank" but would not disclose the location from which he retrieved same. Id. He then entered the cell where Pennix was sitting on the toilet and struck Pennix repeatedly with the weapon until he heard other inmates on the tier telling him to stop or he would "kill him." Id. Partlow then dropped the weapon on the tier and went to the dayroom shower to wash the blood from his body. Id. Partlow provided the following written statement:

In Illustrating my mind frame in my decision to assault my cellmate, I Stewart Partlow 317677 made a conscious decision to do so because I was tired of being bullied and verbally abused on a regular basis by my cellmate Willie Pennix. I am only 5'08', 140 lbs., and my cellmate is at least 6'03" and 245 at least. He is a weight lifter and just continued to pressure me with his verbal abuse which begun to handicap my mental stability as well. Things became so bad for me that I started to feel unsafe being confined in a cell with him. He is strong enough and big enough to man handle me as he wish. When I was 20 years old I was raped at MCTC by my cell buddy while in lockup and I never wanted to be in that situation again by feeling so violated and helpless. Although my cellmate never made any advances upon me in such a manner his aggression and abuse was such that I felt for safety and tonight I just could no longer tolerate the fear I felt being locked in a cell with him. So I unleashed all my pent-up rage and fury against him. I went and retrieved a weapon and used it to repeatedly assault him. It wasn't an act that I wanted to commit but I just couldn't take it no linger (sic) and lost control of my rationale (sic). Before this incident, I was on the honor tier and had not received an infraction since 2008. I had only months to serve before my mandatory release in 2015 and I truly didn't want no trouble at all but as I stated, I felt that if I didn't act first I was subject to be further abused.

ECF 19 at Ex. 1, p. 8. A criminal summons was obtained on January 29, 2014, charging Partlow with first degree assault ...

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