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Sims-Lewis v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 11, 2017

SGT. JOHNSON, et al. Defendants



         In response to this civil rights complaint, Defendants Johnson and Dangerfield, Correctional Officers at the Maryland Reception Diagnostic and Classification Center (MRDCC) filed a Motion to Dismiss or in the alternative for Summary Judgment. ECF 15. In opposition Plaintiff filed a Motion to Proceed with Trial. ECF 18. The Court finds no need for a hearing. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow Defendants' motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, shall be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff Raymond E. Sims-Lewis an inmate committed to the custody of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and currently confined in the Baltimore Central Booking & Intake Center (BCBIC) (see ECF 19), alleges that while he was incarcerated at MRDCC he was assaulted by Sgt. Johnson and Officer Dangerfield. ECF 1 at pp. 3-4. He states that on October 20, 2016, Dangerfield choked Plaintiff “almost to death” but that Plaintiff was able to break free from the “death hold.” Id. at p. 3. Once free, Plaintiff was handcuffed and “repeatedly punched in the face” by both Dangerfield and Johnson “while chief of security supervised.” Id. Plaintiff claims that Johnson and Dangerfield called him a “bitch ass nigger” each time they punched him in the face. Id. at p. 4. As a result of the assault, Plaintiff claims he suffered injuries to his mouth and that he received antibiotics “for the open bruises.” Id. Plaintiff claims that his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment was violated and that Dangerfield and Johnson violated his rights under the Maryland Tort Claim Act and the Local Government Tort Claim Act. Id. He states he suffered emotional distress “due to . . . having a mental health crisis as the state personel (sic) training wasn't equipped for handle mental health patients.” Id. As relief he seeks compensatory damages.

         B. Defendants' Response

         Defendants provide verified business records which include their written statements prepared on the day of the incident concerned in the complaint. Sgt. Dangerfield reported that he responded to the “PSA area” on October 20, 2016, after being informed that Plaintiff was refusing to return to his housing unit. ECF 15 at Ex. 1, p. 9. When Dangerfield asked Plaintiff why he was refusing to return to his housing unit, Plaintiff responded that he wanted to see a doctor “and not that man I want to see the woman.” Id. Dangerfield informed Plaintiff that the female doctor he was referring to was not there that day. Id. Plaintiff became upset and then stated he wanted to be placed in a single cell. Id. When Dangerfield told Plaintiff he would not get a single cell and that he had to go back to his housing unit, and ordered Plaintiff to stand up and place his hands behind his back to be handcuffed, Plaintiff became irate. Id. Plaintiff stood up and told the officers not to touch him and “jumped towards Sgt. Johnson in an aggressive manner.” Id. In response to Plaintiff's aggression, Dangerfield and Johnson took him to the floor, placed handcuffs on him, picked him up, and escorted him to the medical unit where he was seen by a nurse. Id. Dangerfield's statement under oath prepared for this case reflects the same account of events. ECF 15 at Ex. 2.

         Sgt. Johnson's statement reflects a similar course of events. ECF 15 at Ex. 1, p. 7. Johnson states he was called to “PSA” because Plaintiff was refusing to leave the area “because he wanted to have a single cell.” Id. After Plaintiff was told “he was not single cell status, ” Plaintiff became loud and yelled he was “not going anywhere.” Id. Johnson states that Plaintiff was given a direct order to turn around to be handcuffed, but he “became combative” and “lunged toward [Johnson's] upper torso and was taken to the floor.” Id. Johnson “secured [Plaintiff's] right arm and handcuffs were applied.” Id. In a later report written by Johnson, he states that Plaintiff “stood up and charged at me wrapping his arms around my waist.” Id. at p. 33. Johnson's statement under oath prepared for this case reflects the first statement he wrote regarding this incident, i.e., it does not include an allegation that Plaintiff wrapped his arms around Johnson's waist. ECF 15 at Ex. 3.

         Johnson was called by radio to the area by Officer Natalie Porter who reported that Plaintiff was refusing to leave “bullpen #33.” ECF 15 at Ex. 1, p. 10. Porter reported in her statement that Johnson gave Plaintiff a direct order to turn around and put his hands behind his back to be cuffed, but Plaintiff “became combative and lunged toward” Johnson. Id. Porter states that a “10-13 was called” and Plaintiff “was taken down to the floor . . . secured and escorted to medical.” Id.

         The incident was investigated by Major Vivian Staten, who determined that the “force used was justified in self-defense.” ECF 15 at Ex. 1, p. 14. Staten further found that Plaintiff “refused several verbal commands to be handcuffed instead charging after Sergeant Arnold Johnson.” Id.

         With regard to Plaintiff's statement that he was having a mental health crisis (see ECF 1 at p. 3), Defendants provide copies of Plaintiff's relevant mental health records. ECF 15 at Ex. 4, p. 16. Plaintiff was seen on October 20, 2016, the date of the incident, by Edward Diamond, Psychology Associate. In the progress note written by Diamond, he explained that medical staff requested that someone from the psychology department interview Plaintiff because “he reportedly presented himself at sick call this morning with complaints of anxiety.” Id. Diamond described Plaintiff as presenting “himself in an angry and agitated fashion.” Id. Plaintiff “refused to cooperate with attempts to assess his mental status.” Id. Diamond noted that Plaintiff had been seen by “psychiatry at MRDCC” and was prescribed Risperdal, Prozac, and Diphenhydramine, which he began taking one-month previously.[1] Id.

         As background, Diamond reported that on October 19, 2016, Plaintiff came to the medical department complaining of chest pain and told Diamond he was given Tylenol, put into the bull pen for observation, and placed on bed rest. Id. On October 20, 2016, Plaintiff was called to the medical department in response to a sick call request he had put in previously regarding his eyesight and requesting glasses. Id. Plaintiff told Diamond that the nurse evaluated his vision, but that he was not told the disposition of his request regarding his vision. Id. His blood pressure was elevated (140/111), but Plaintiff denied any history of treatment for hypertension. Id.

         During his encounter with Diamond, Plaintiff voiced suicidal thoughts and stated that his plan was “to jump off of the upper tier ‘face first' and land on his neck.” Id. At that time Plaintiff did not know when or where he would carry out this plan and told Diamond that he needed to be housed alone, prescribed Elavil, and that Diamond needed to accompany him to court. Id. Diamond states in his progress note that Plaintiff would be referred to the “IMHU at BCBIC for placement on suicide/close observation.” Id. Follow-up with psychology staff was also recommended as necessary or requested. Id. at pp. 16 - 17.

         The medical record prepared when Plaintiff was brought for evaluation following the use of force indicates that he complained that officers punched him in the face and that he had blood inside of his mouth. ECF 15 at Ex. 4, p. 18. Plaintiff asked for water to drink. Id. Rosemary Ojih, RN noted that Plaintiff had “no swelling or discoloration” and that he appeared “very anxious ...

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