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Stepney v. Armstead

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 1, 2018

JAREL A. STEPNEY, #430226 Plaintiff


          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge.

         Jarel Stepney, who is self-represented, is a state inmate confined at the Patuxent Institution (“Patuxent”) in Jessup, Maryland. On April 4, 2017, he filed an unverified complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, invoking the court's jurisdiction and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343 & 1367. ECF 1. Stepney alleges use of excessive force and inadequate medical care. Id. at 4.

         Defendants CO II Daniel Nganga and Warden Laura Armstead (“Correctional Defendants”) have jointly filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 14.[1] ECF 14. The motion is supported by a Memorandum (ECF 14-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and exhibits in the form of declarations and records. ECF 14-2 to 14-4.[2] Stepney has not responded.[3]

         No hearing is necessary to resolve this Motion. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, defendants' uncontroverted motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Stepney's Complaint

         Stepney alleges that on or about October 7, 2015, he arrived at Patuxent and was placed in cell C-1-16. ECF 1, ¶¶ 13, 14. Correctional Officer Nganga, in the presence of Correctional Officer Bonsworth and Lt. Peoples, instructed Stepney to remove all his clothing, but he refused. Id. ¶¶ 14, 15. Lt. Peoples called for a “Correctional Institution Squad” and at that time Bonsworth, Nganga, and Peoples rushed the cell door and attempted to get into the cell, but were unable to do so “because of the way [Stepney] held the door.” Id. ¶ 15. Stepney asserts that when the officers finally entered his cell some thirty minutes later, the first to do so, Peoples, started swinging and punching Stepney in his chest. Id. ¶ 16. Stepney claims that Bonsworth, who next entered the cell, punched him, then picked him up, carried him outside the cell, threw him on the floor of the tier, and placed his knees in Stepney's back. Further, Stepney alleges that Nganga punched him in the back of the head and on the sides of his face several times. ECF 1, ¶¶ 16-17.

         Stepney next claims that Nganga handcuffed him in the back and all three correctional officers dragged him to his feet and carried him to the shower area, where his clothing (a jumpsuit, tee-shirt, and underwear) was cut off with scissors. Id. ¶¶ 17, 18. He states that he was given a smock and taken back to his cell, where he was given a food tray. Stepney complains that his request to be taken to the medical department was ignored by all the officers. Id. ¶ 19. Further, he alleges that his body was becoming numb and he experienced bleeding from his rectum and swelling on both sides of his face and his right foot. Id. ¶ 20.

         Stepney asserts that after laying in his cell for about two hours, Nurse Alatoso came to his cell and attempted to make him take the medication “dethpacolt.”[4] He claims that he took the medication because Alatoso told him he would remain in Housing Unit L-1 if he did not do so. ECF 1, ¶ 21.

         Stepney states that because he was left with “only a smock, no foot wear, no bedding, a concrete bed, mice, roaches, etc., he wanted to get away from such an environment.” ECF 1 ¶ 22. He recounts that the following morning, on October 8, 2015, he was seen by Dr. Shabazz, who placed Stepney on Lithium, which “made him bleed from the rectum.” Id. ¶ 23. He informed Shabazz of same, but the physician informed him that Lithium did not cause that reaction. Id. Additionally, Stepney claims that Kristen Hanks, a Mental Health Professional (“MHP”), prescribed the wrong medication for him on October 8, 2015, causing him to be poisoned. ECF 1, ¶ 24. He contends that two to three weeks later, his blood work “came back poison.” Id. ¶ 24. Stepney states that Dr. Hong took him off Lithium after his “blood became poison.” Id. ¶ 25. He complains that nothing was done for him by Patuxent medical staff as to the aforementioned “attack” by correctional officers or the poisoning. Id. ¶ 26.

         Stepney alleges that Warden Armstead failed to take any action in response to his administrative remedy procedure (“ARP”) grievances (id. ¶ 26), and failed “to curb” what happened to him. Id. ¶ 34. He complains that the correctional officers' actions were a “misuse of force” as he did nothing to warrant such treatment and they ignored his request to be taken to the medical department. Id. ¶¶ 27, 28, 29, 30. Stepney also claims that Alatoso, Hanks, and Shabazz engaged in unprofessional behavior, negligence, and cruel and unusual punishment when Alatoso forced him to take medication, Hanks prescribed the wrong medication, and Shabazz prescribed Lithium, which caused blood poisoning. Id. ¶¶ 31, 32, 33. He seeks declaratory relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. ECF 1 at 16-19.

         B. Correctional Defendants' response

         Stepney was transferred from the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup (“MCIJ”) to the Mental Health Unit at Patuxent at approximately 4:00 p.m. on October 6, 2015, due to his disorganized thoughts and inability to get along with others at MCIJ. ECF 14-2 (Intelligence and Investigative Division (“IID”) Report) at 6, 28. He was housed in a Tier L-1 cell. Id. at 6.

         According to the IID Report, plaintiff filed an ARP grievance on November 7, 2016, claiming to have been assaulted in his cell by seven officers on the evening of his arrival at Patuxent. Id. at 5. The incident was investigated by IID Detective Roger Balderson.

         Stepney was interviewed by Balderson on December 17, 2015. During the interview, Stepney indicated that he had not been injured at all, despite his ARP alleging that he had been punched and kneed in his sides by officers. ECF 14-2 at 6. He was unable to identify any of the correctional officers who allegedly assaulted him, either by name or physical description. Stepney agreed to complete a Complaint Withdrawal form to dismiss the complaint, which he did at the conclusion of the interview. Id. at 10. For his part, Correctional Officer Nganga affirms he did not use force against Stepney. ECF 14-4 (Nganga Decl.).

         Balderson continued his investigation by meeting with the Patuxent Shift Supervisor, Major Eugene Pigatt. ECF 14-2 at 6. A computer records check was conducted for Use of Force (“UOF”) reports for October 7, 2015, with negative results. Pigatt informed Balderson that if an inmate had to be extracted from his cell, as Stepney alleged in his ARP, a UOF report would be generated. Balderson also reviewed the Patuxent Significant Events Form for October 7, 2015, as well as the L-1 Tier Logbook for October 6 to 8, 2015. The examination revealed no information related to Stepney or any cell extraction or incident of assault involving Stepney. ECF 14-2 at 12-15, 17-20, 22-26; ECF 14-3 (Johnson Decl.). Pigatt informed Balderson that it is normal procedure during intake for a mental health inmate to be relieved of his possessions, including clothing, and to ...

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