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Artis v. Wolford

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 19, 2019

JOHN EARL ARTIS, #244-295, Plaintiff,
JEREMY W. WOLFORD,[1] et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants Frank B. Bishop, Jr., Warden of North Branch Correctional Institution (“NBCI”) (“Warden Bishop”); J. Michael Zeigler, Deputy Secretary of Operations for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”); Wendell M. France, Deputy Secretary of Operations for DPSCS; C.O. II Jeremy W. Wolford, and C.O. II James A. Strope's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17). The Motion is ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant in part and deny without prejudice in part Defendants' Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         A. The Incident

         On March 19, 2017, at around 9:12 a.m., Plaintiff John Earl Artis, an inmate currently incarcerated at NBCI in Cumberland, Maryland was involved in a physical altercation with another prisoner. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7, ECF No. 1; Supp. at 2, ECF No. 5).[3]Wolford and Strope responded to the incident and “dispersed a canister of chemical agents.” (Comp. ¶ 8). Upon being sprayed, Artis retreated from the altercation. (Id. ¶ 9). Artis attempted to comply with orders by holding out his hands to be hand-cuffed, but Wolford and Strope continued to spray him with chemicals while “striking him in the face, body[, ] and head.” (Id. ¶ 10). At some point in time, Artis ended up on the ground. (See Id. at 12). While Artis was on the ground and “immobilized” and “incapacitated” by the chemical agent, Wolford and Strope began “striking him in the face” and “applying closed[-]fist punches to his head and body.” (Id. ¶ 12). Wolford and Strope then proceeded to “kick[ ]” Artis's “body and facial area” and employ “elbow strikes” to Artis's head and face. (Id. ¶ 13; Supp. at 2). Artis “sustained a black eye, ” swelling and abrasions to his face, head, cheekbone and forehead, injuries to his knee, shin bone, and fibula, and several bruises on his body. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-15).

         Artis told Wolford and Strope that his skin was “burning” and requested medical treatment for his injuries, which was denied. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17). Artis was then transferred to NBCI's disciplinary segregation unit and was denied a change of clothing. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 19). Artis was also denied decontamination liquids to flush his eyes, face, and skin, as well as a check of his vital signs to ensure that the chemical spray had no adverse effects. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 20-21). “Since the incident, Artis continues to experience sever[e] headaches, dizz[i]ness, pain, and vomiting.” (Id. ¶ 29).

         Prior to the incident, Artis complained to Warden Bishop about corrections officers, including Wolford, threatening, harassing, and making derogatory comments towards Artis. (Id. ¶ 22). Warden Bishop “failed to investigate” Artis's complaints and “failed to discipline or restrain” the corrections officers. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23). He also was aware of Artis's complaints, but “did nothing other than provide tacit support to [his] subordinates by justifying their unlawful actions.” (Id. ¶ 28). Specifically with regard to Wolford, Warden Bishop “maliciously and intentionally allowed [his] actions to go unchecked.” (Id. ¶ 25).

         B. The Investigations

         After the incident, Lt. Thomas Sawyers (“Lt. Sawyers”) conducted a use of force investigation and detailed his findings in a report (the “UOF Report”). (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Alt. Summ. J. [“Defs.' Mot.”] Ex. 1 [“UOF Rep.”], ECF No. 17-4). The UOF Report reflects that on March 19, 2017, an incident occurred involving Artis and two other inmates, Dashawn Peterkin and Bobby Arnold. (UOF Rep. at 3). According to the UOF Report, Peterkin chased Arnold from the housing unit to the lobby, striking him with closed-fist punches. (Id.). A corrections officer managed to restrain Peterkin while Arnold retreated into the housing unit. (Id.).

         Artis then ran from the housing unit, across the lobby, and into the corridor in an attempt to assault Arnold. (Id.). Wolford and Strope met Artis in the corridor, positioned themselves in between Arnold and Artis, and gave Artis orders to get on the floor. (Id.). According to UOF Report, Artis continued charging toward Arnold despite Wolford and Strope's orders. (Id.). Wolford then deployed pepper spray on Artis, but Artis continued refusing corrections officers' orders, so Wolford and Strope took him to the floor. (Id.). Wolford and Strope again gave Artis orders to place his hands behind his back, but Artis continued to struggle, attempting to get back up from the floor. (Id.). At that point, “Wolford applied elbow strikes to Inmate Artis'[s] head and shoulder areas” in an effort to get him to comply. (Id.). Wolford and Strope were then able to handcuff Artis and escort him “to the HU2 Medical Room to await medical treatment.” (Id.). NBCI's video surveillance system captured footage of the incident, (id.), but the lobby area where Wolford and Strope allegedly assaulted Artis is not visible from any of the cameras, (see Defs.' Mot. Ex. 6, ECF Nos. 17-9, 20).[4] Lt. Sawyers concluded that the level of force the corrections officers, including Wolford and Strope, used was “appropriate and consistent with all applicable policies and the DPSCS Use of Force Manual.” (UOF Rep. at 3).

         According to the UOF Report, Marilyn Evans, R.N., (“Nurse Evans”) treated Artis, Peterkin, and Arnold for pepper spray exposure. (Id.). In a medical report dated March 19, 2017, Nurse Evans noted that Artis complained of pain on his “face and head” and “getting kicked in [the] head.” (Id. at 27). Nurse Evans also noted slight bruising on the right eye, a two-centimeter superficial laceration on the left lower eyelid, and redness on the right parietal region of the head. (Id.). She stated that Artis “[r]efused to open eyes, ” and therefore, she was unable to check his pupils. (Id.). She did not note whether Artis complained of the effects of the pepper spray or whether Artis was treated for its effects.[5](See id.). Nurse Evans cleaned Artis's laceration with saline and recommended a shower and cold compresses to the head. (Id.).

         On March 27, 2017, after Artis filed a grievance through the Administrative Remedy Procedure, Sgt. Robert Fagan (“Sgt. Fagan”) of the Intelligence and Investigative Division began another investigation of the incident. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5 at 1-2, ECF No. 17-8). On March 30, 2017, Sgt. Fagan interviewed Artis and Peterkin. (Id. at 10). At that time, Artis stated that he was sprayed with pepper spray while lying on his stomach, that he was not resisting, and that he was trying to hold his arms to allow officers to handcuff him. (Id.). Artis also stated that the officers were holding his arms while punching, kicking, and elbowing him to the back of his head. (Id.). Likewise, Peterkin stated that he saw officers jump on Artis and “kick and punch him.” (Id.). According to Peterkin, the “staff went overboard, ” there were about seven to ten officers present, and “Artis was already on the ground and the Officers were yelling that he was resisting but he wasn't.” (Id.).

         On April 26, 2017, Sgt. Fagan obtained the video footage of the incident. (Id.). He noted that although the video showed Artis running toward Arnold, it did not show Wolford and Strope restraining Artis. (Id.).

         On November 20, 2017, Sgt. Fagan interviewed Wolford and Strope. (Id. at 10-11). Wolford stated that the pepper spray seemed to have no effect on Artis and that Artis continued to resist after the officers brought him to the ground. (Id. at 10). Wolford also stated that he delivered elbow strikes to Artis in an effort to get him to comply until additional staff arrived. (Id.). Similarly, Strope stated that Artis continued to struggle after he was brought to the ground, and that Wolford applied elbow strikes to Artis's head and shoulders to get him to comply. (Id. at 11). Wolford and Strope both stated that they did not witness anyone kicking Artis. (Id.).

         At the conclusion of the investigation, Sgt. Fagan noted that although both Artis and Peterkin reported that corrections officers kicked Artis, Nurse Evans' medical report did not support that level of force. (Id.). As a result, Sgt. Fagan concluded that there was no evidence to show that staff used unreasonable force to control Artis. (Id.).

         C. Artis's Lawsuit

         On August 22, 2017, while Sgt. Fagan was still conducting his investigation, Artis sued Warden Bishop, Zeigler, France, Wolford, and Strope. (ECF No. 1). In his six-count[6]Verified Complaint, Artis alleges: excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Count I); deliberate indifference to serious medical need in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (Count II); violations of Articles 24 and 26 to the Maryland Constitution (Count III); negligence (Count IV); failure to properly train or supervise in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Count V); and emotional distress (Count VI). (Compl. at 9-15). Artis seeks money damages, injunctive relief, a transfer to a different prison, and costs. (Id. at 16-17; Supp. at 4).

         On May 18, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 17). Artis filed an Opposition on June 1, 2018. (ECF Nos. 22, 25).[7] To date, the Court has no record that Defendants filed a Reply.

         II. ...

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