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Thomas v. Gelsinger

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 27, 2018

GREGORY THOMAS, Plaintiff
v.
WARDEN DENISE GELSINGER, et al. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Gregory Thomas, a state inmate confined at the Western Correctional Institution (WCI), filed this civil rights complaint against Defendants Warden Denise Gelsinger, Warden Richard Graham, Correctional Officer II Daniel Faulkner, Correctional Officer II Trey Brenneman, and Correctional Officer II Sharon Dayton.[1] Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, Alternatively, for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 8. Plaintiff opposes the motion. ECF No. 14. No. hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On April 19, 2015, at approximately 9:10 a.m., Officer Sharon Dayton, who was assigned to housing unit 1 A wing, went to the upper A wing recreation hall after hearing an inmate yelling loudly. ECF No. 8-2 at 18 (Notice of Inmate Rule Violation).[3] There she observed Thomas acting in a loud and disruptive manner, waving his arms, appearing to be under the influence of an unknown controlled dangerous substance. Id.; ECF No. 8-2 at 2 (tier log). He yelled, “I'm on the honor tier, you can't do shit to me.” ECF No. 8-2 at 18. Dayton noted that Thomas failed to follow direct orders and she called for assistance. ECF No. 8-2 at 2.

         Officers Faulkner and Brenneman responded to the call for assistance and saw Thomas standing in front of the recreation hall bathroom yelling and acting erratically. ECF No. 8-2 at 10 (Faulkner Use of Force Report); ECF No. 8-2 at 52 (Brenneman Use of Force Report).[4] Thomas was observed clenching his fists and “display[ing] an aggressive defensive stance.” ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52. He spoke incoherently and “put his hands in the air and stated, ‘Don't shoot.'” ECF No. 8-4 at 11 (Faulkner interview with Intelligence and Investigative Division (IID)); ECF No. 8-4 at 11 (Brenneman interview with IID).[5] Thomas appeared to Faulkner and Brenneman to be under the influence of an unknown controlled dangerous substance. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 52. Faulkner directed Thomas several times to turn around in order to be handcuffed, but Thomas refused to comply. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52; ECF No. 8-4 at 11, 12. Due to concerns of a possible fight, Brenneman called for additional assistance to the wing. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52. As other officers arrived on the wing, Thomas dropped to the floor and continued to yell in such a way that officers believed he was attempting to incite other inmates. ECF No. 8-2 at 5, 7, 13. Because housing unit 1, A wing, is an honor tier all of the cell doors remained open. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52. Faulkner attempted to place handcuffs on Thomas but he resisted. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52; ECF No. 8-4 at 11. Ultimately, with the assistance of Brenneman, Faulkner applied the handcuffs. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52. As Faulkner and Brenneman escorted Thomas to the medical department, Thomas continued to yell and attempt to incite other inmates. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52; ECF No. 8-4 at 11. He also acted aggressively toward Faulkner and Brenneman, spitting, jumping, and attempting to pull away from them. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52; ECF No. 8-4 at 11. Thomas denies spitting, jumping, or pulling away from the officers. In his opposition response, Thomas indicates that due to a pre-existing knee injury, during the escort his knee began to hurt and he “attempted to shift his weight to one side to minimize the pressure and pain on his knee from the unusual position the Officers were escorting him in.” ECF No. 14 at 2. Then without warning his “leg was clipped from beneath him” and he lost his footing and was taken to the ground. Id. He alleges, for the first time in his opposition response, that he was kicked in the face once on the ground. Id. However, Thomas does not support these assertions with any record evidence.

         Faulkner and Brenneman took Thomas to the ground in order to gain control over him. ECF No. 8-2 at 10, 18, 52; ECF No. 8-4 at 11, 12. Video of the incident shows Faulkner and Brenneman escorting Thomas across the compound and taking him to the ground. ECF No. 14-4. Although Thomas claims that he was lifted up of his feet and slammed onto the concrete ground, the video shows that Thomas was neither lifted off the ground nor slammed into the ground. Id. It does show, however, that while Thomas was handcuffed, Brenneman and Thomas pushed him facedown to the concrete ground in an apparent effort to control him. Another officer, Lieutenant Smith, observed Thomas attempting to pull away from the officers and yelling at the officers and other inmates. ECF No. 8-4 at 12 (Smith interview with IID). Smith also reported that Thomas was out of control, yelling, and did not appear to know what was going on. ECF No. 8-4 at 12.

         Paula Conners, RN evaluated Thomas. She noted that when he was brought to medical, “[h]e was yelling and screaming, ‘it is God's day.'” ECF No. 8-2 at 23. Initially he would not stop yelling long enough to be questioned. Eventually he was evaluated and a 5 centimeter laceration with partial detachment was noted above his right ear. ECF No. 8-2 at 23. A 2-3 centimeter laceration was noted above his right eye. ECF No. 8-2 at 23. Plaintiff declined to have any suturing or other treatment or evaluation. ECF No. 8-2 at 23. The wounds were cleaned and dressed and Thomas was taken to special housing. ECF No. 8-2 at 23. There, while undressing, another wound was discovered and medical was called to come reassess Thomas. ECF No. 8-2 at 23. An abrasion, 9 centimeters in diameter, with swelling and dried blood was observed on Thomas's right shoulder. ECF No. 8-2 at 23. Plaintiff appeared to be calming down and was advised by Conners that he should consent to having a physician assess him later. He indicated his agreement but continued to refuse suturing. ECF No. 8-2 at 23. Conners returned to the special housing unit at approximately 12:20 p.m. that afternoon and asked Thomas if he would consent to the provider coming to look at him. ECF No. 8-2 at 23. He agreed he would. Conners noted that Thomas “appear[ed] hypervigilant in his physical and emotional reaction, pacing and quick responses.” ECF No. 8-2 at 23. Conners contacted the physician who indicated he and the physician's assistant would evaluate Thomas when they were available. Id. Conners also noted that custody staff advised that in order to provide safety extra staff would need to be present for the assessment. ECF No. 8-2 at 23.

         Later that day, at approximately 3:47 p.m., Krista Swan, RNP treated Thomas. ECF No. 8-2 at 21. She noted that he suffered a small head laceration and right ear laceration. She described him as alert and oriented. Thomas refused to have the right ear laceration, which was described as a “partial detachment, ” sutured. ECF No. 8-2 at 21. He told Swan that, “I am a child of God and I will heal on my own, right before your eyes.” ECF No. 8-2 at 21. Thomas did submit a urine sample, which was negative for CDS. ECF No. 8-2 at 92-93.

         The following day, Thomas refused wound care stating, “I am God in the flesh, my ear will grow back [and] I may not be alive tomorrow.” ECF No. 8-2 at 57. That day a member of the psychology staff, Jonathan Hess, provided Thomas with individual therapy. ECF No. 8-2 at 29. Mr. Hess reported that Thomas was loud and boisterous during the therapy session. ECF No. 8-2 at 29. Thomas told Mr. Hess “that he becomes very passionate about certain things and becomes loud.” ECF No. 8-2 at 29.

         On April 21, 2015, Thomas refused to take medications or allow his dressings to be changed. ECF No. 8-2 at 59. He yelled at the medical provider and laughed while stating, “I am a God.” ECF No. 8-2 at 59. He was also seen that day by psychology staff. ECF No. 8-2 at 31. He was described as “alert but not fully oriented. He is argumentative and has difficulty understanding why he is in SOH.” ECF No. 8-2 at 31. When challenged that his behavior was out of character, he responded that he was fine and that he “is just very passionate at times about certain things.” ECF No. 8-2 at 31.

         On April 22, 2015, Thomas again refused medication. ECF No. 8-2 at 60. He was observed singing and yelling which could be heard outside of the special housing area before entering the door. ECF No. 8-2 at 60. Later that day he consented to a dressing change, but again refused medication. ECF No. 8-2 at 61.

         Thomas was seen again by psychology staff on April 23, 2015. He continued to be loud and boisterous and his speech was described as cyclical. ECF No. 8-2 at 33. He calmed down later in the day and asked to speak to members of the psychology staff to whom he expressed his belief that the incident was all a misunderstanding, that he was never under the influence of drugs, and was simply speaking passionately to other inmates. ECF No. 8-2 at 33-34. His demeanor was described as much improved and calmer. ECF No. 8-2 at 35. The following day, Thomas was alert and oriented, his speech was normal in rate and tone and he appeared calmer. ECF No. 8-2 at 38. He was determined not to be a risk for self-destructive behavior and released from observation status. ECF No. 8-2 at 38.

         Thomas was evaluated by medical staff on April 29, 2015. He complained of right and left shoulder pain as well as neck pain. He was provided analgesic medication and x-rays of his shoulder and neck were ordered. ECF No. 8-2 at 64. He continued to receive wound care. ECF No. 8-2 at 66, 68.

         As a result of the incident, Thomas was charged with inmate rule violations: Rule 100 (engage in a disruptive act); 312 (interfere with or resist the performance of staff duties to include a search of a person, time, area or location); and 400 (disobey an order). ECF No. 8-2 at 72. After a contested hearing, Thomas was found guilty of all three infractions. ECF No. 8-2 at 78. He was sanctioned with 250 days ...


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