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Williams v. Morgan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 6, 2017

ANDRE WILLIAMS, #438-037, 3355645, Plaintiff


          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Andre Williams, a Maryland Division of Correction prisoner currently housed at Western Correctional Institution (“WCI”), has filed a civil rights action seeking $300, 000.00[1]and alleging that seven correctional officers entered his cell and assaulted him. In response, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 20, which Williams opposes, ECF No. 22. Because the court will consider exhibits outside of the pleadings to determine the outcome of this case, the motion will be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. The court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         Complaint Allegations

         Williams alleges that in response to a “peaceful protest” at Maryland Correctional Training Center (“MCTC”) concerning the quality of food, he was assaulted on the afternoon of January 11, 2016, by Defendants McKinley, Yonker, Fiorita, Bair, Durboraw, Carr and Hollar. Williams states that he was asleep in his cell and unable promptly to respond to Defendants' demands that he remove the covering from his cell window, at which time Defendants entered his cell, pushed him to the ground, and hit and choked him until he lost consciousness. ECF No. 1, ECF No. 3 at p. 8. Williams does not allege any misconduct on the part of Defendant Morgan, MCTC's warden.

         Defendants' Response

         Defendants' sworn statements and video footage submitted with their summary judgment motion demonstrate that the actions taken to extract Williams from his cell were neither random nor unprovoked. On January 11, 2016, MCTC staff were conducting feed-up of the C-tier of Housing Unit 7, a segregation unit where prisoners had food delivered to their cells. ECF No. 20-2 at ¶ 3, Decl. of Lt. William McKinley, with attached records. Williams was an inmate incarcerated at Housing Unit 7, C-Tier. Id. That day, several of those housed on the Unit refused their meals, yelling for others to do the same. Id. at ¶ 4. The incident began around 8:45 a.m. and continued through the day. Id.

         Prison staff attempted to ameliorate the disturbance by providing an extra cookie with the meals, but the demonstrators wanted additional protein. Id. When told the meals that they received were identical to those provided other prisoners, including those in general population, some prisoners began clogging their toilets around 10:00 a.m. Id. at ¶ 5. Those who did so had their water shut off, and those who were deemed insubordinate were written up for violating institutional rules. Id.

         Prisoners then began to impede the staff's ability to conduct a “count”[2] of those on the tier by blocking the windows on the cell doors in violation of prison rules. Id. at ¶ 6. By about 4:10 p.m., many windows had been covered and only five prisoners had accepted their meals. Id. at ¶ 7. McKinley, who was the officer in charge, requested permission from his superiors to assemble a “Forced Count Team” and conduct a “forced count” wherein a team of officers opens a cell door to account for the occupant(s). Id. at ¶ 8. Because a forced count is often preceded by an inmate covering his cell window and refusing to remove the obstruction, an officer opening the door is not certain of what is occurring inside the cell. The officer may be vulnerable to an attack, or the prisoner may be attempting an escape. Id. Due to the nature of forced counts and the risks involved, they are videotaped, and officers are usually dressed in riot gear, which may include body armor and a shield, along with pepper-spray. Id. at ¶ 9.

         McKinley received permission to assemble the team of officers to conduct a forced count around 5:30 p.m. Id. at ¶ 10. The team included McKinley and Defendants Bradley Younker, Duane Bair, Gary Durboraw, James Fiorita, and Harry Carr. Id. at ¶ 10 and p. 5. McKinley can be seen on film talking into the camera explaining the situation. ECF No. 20-3, Cell Extraction Video, Disk 1, 00:01 - 1:18. He introduces himself and members of the team assembled to conduct the forced count. Id. Each officer is suited in armor, which has an assigned number for identification. Id. McKinley explains that a nurse is also present to attend to any medical needs that may arise. Id. The officers are introduced, and the number on their body armor is identified on camera: Younker, assigned number 3; Hollar, assigned number 4; Durboraw, assigned number 6; Bair, assigned number 328; Carr, assigned number 2; and Fiorita, assigned number 5. Id.

         Williams was among those who had blocked his cell window. ECF No. 20-2 at ¶ 10. After Williams refused to uncover his window, McKinley ordered that the cell door be opened by the “Force Count Team.” Id. The video shows a team of officers arriving at Williams's cell. ECF No. 20-4, Cell Extraction Video, Disk 2, at 00:55. The window is obstructed. Id. Officers are heard ordering Williams to remove the obstruction, warning him that failure to do so promptly will result in the door being opened. Id. at 00:55-1:15. After the obstruction is not removed, the cell door begins to open. Id. at 1:20. After the door is open, Sgt. Younker, standing in the doorway enters the cell, followed by other officers, who can be heard repeatedly yelling “stop resisting.” Id. at 1:23 -1:48. An officer turns on the light to the cell. Id. at 1:33-1:38.

         Younker avers that when the cell door was opened, Williams lunged forward. Younker Decl., Id. at ¶ 11 and p. 5. It is impossible fully to discern this from the videotape, because the camera was shot from the hallway and/or at the cell door, behind the officers who entered the cell. Williams' leg can be seen on the bottom bunk-bed, indicating he was not on the ground, with his palms placed on the floor, as directed. ECF No. 20-4, Disk 2 at 2:03. Williams explains he failed to comply because he was asleep on his bed at the time defendants entered his cell. Williams is pinned down and handcuffed. Id. In total, the extraction took approximately two-and-half minutes. Id. 1:23 - 2:50. The cell door begins to open at approximately 1:20, with officers entering the cell at approximately 1:23. Id. By 2:50, the officers are carrying Williams, handcuffed, out of the cell. Id.

         Surveillance footage shows Williams being carried, while handcuffed, to a special containment cage. Id. at 2:50 to 3:32. The footage does not show that Williams was struck in any way during this time, nor does it show that Williams was unconscious. Id. Once placed in the cage, he is helped by an officer who assists him in sitting upright. Id. at 3:32 - 4:10. Williams is heard expressing difficulty breathing, id., and was taken to the dispensary for medical treatment at about 5:44 pm. ECF No. 20-5, Medical Records of Andre Williams at p. 2. His vital signs were stable and he had no abrasions or bleeding. Williams complained of a sore back but was able to walk and move without problem. Id. He had some redness on the right side of his face, but left the dispensary in fair condition and was returned to the custody of the prison staff. Id.

         Williams received a “Notice of Inmate Rule Violation” charging him with violating five institutional rules: Rule 100 - Engaging in a disruptive act; Rule 101 - Committing assault or battery on staff; Rule 312 - Interfering with or resisting the performance of staff duties; Rule 400 - Disobeying an order; and Rule 408 - Misuse, alter, tamper with, damage, or destroy state property or property of another. ECF No. 20-2 p. 4. Williams pleaded guilty to violations of Rules 312, 400 and 408 at a disciplinary hearing held on March 14, 2016. Id. at pp. 5-10. The hearing officer determined he was guilty of violating Rule 100 and Rule 101 as well. Id. at p. 9.

         Standard ...

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