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Walker v. Heavener

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 10, 2019

VERONICA WALKER, et al., Plaintiffs,


          James K. Bredar Chief Judge

         Jason Wallace was murdered by his cellmate at the Western Correctional Institution ("WCI") on September 13, 2013. This case arises from that tragic incident. Plaintiffs are Wallace's parents, Veronica Walker and Gilbert Wallace, and his surviving minor children, V.W. and K. W. They assert federal and state claims against Correctional Officer Reginald Heavener for conduct relating to Wallace's death. Pending before the Court is Heavener's Motion for Summary Judgment on all counts of the Amended Complaint brought against him. (ECF No. 149.) No. hearing is required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons set forth below, Heavener's Motion will be granted.

         I. Factual Background [1]

         Jason Wallace was incarcerated at WCI, a Maryland prison, in September 2013. (M.S.J. Ex. 3, ECF No. 149-4.) He shared cell 39 in the B-Tier of Housing Unit 3 with inmate Darnell Thompson. (M.S.J. Ex. 1 at44:21-46:17, 97:13-100:6, 128:19-129:3, ECF No. 149-2 ("Heavener Dep.").) On September 13, 2013, after Thompson and Wallace had been cellmates for only about two weeks, Thompson attacked Wallace in their cell sometime between 6:00 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. (Heavener Dep. at 97:13-98:12, 132:1-137:17; Opp'n M.S.J. Ex. 6, ECF No. 152-6; see also M.S J. Ex. 5 at 3, ECF No. 149-6.) Wallace was not provided medical care for the severe injuries he sustained until approximately 7:40 p.m., and he was pronounced dead at 9:00 p.m. (Opp'n M.SJ. Ex. 6 at 2, ECF No. 152-6.)

         Defendant Heavener was the correctional officer ("CO") assigned to Wallace's tier on the day of his murder. (Heavener Dep. 94:8-95:6.) His shift began at 8:00a.m. and ended at midnight. (Id. at 100:10-101:20.) As the CO on duty, Heavener was responsible for supervising the inmates on the tier-approximately sixty inmates in September 2013-and ensuring the tier was secure. (Id. at 31:17-33:21, 102:8-14.) Heavener was familiar with both Wallace and Thompson and was not aware of any issues between them. (Opp'n M.S.J. Ex. 4 at 33:17-34:19, ECF No. 152-4 ("Heavener Tr. Testimony"); Heavener Dep. at 44:21-48:4.)

         On the evening of September 13, 2013, before the attack occurred, Wallace and the other inmates on his tier went to the dining hall for dinner. (Heavener Dep. at 115:7-15.) Wallace sat and talked with a friend, Timothy Middleton, during dinner, and Middleton reported that nothing seemed unusual about Wallace at the time. (Opp'n M.S.J. Ex. 3 at 42:1-21, ECF No. 152-3 ("Middleton Dep.").) The inmates returned to their cells from dinner at approximately 6:00 p.m. (Heavener Dep. at 114:16-117:7; Heavener Tr. Testimony at 14:1-16:21.)

         Immediately after the inmates returned from dinner, Middleton heard "lockers banging," "commotion," and "fighting sounds" in Wallace's cell. (Middleton Dep. at 44:16-47:7; Opp'n M.S.J. Ex. 5 at 16:3-17:5, ECF No. 152-5 ("Middleton Tr. Testimony").) Middleton's cell was across the hall and "over one" from the cell that Wallace and Thompson shared, approximately ten or twelve feet away. (Heavener Dep. at 130:1-4; Middleton Dep. at 18:1-11.) Middleton further heard Wallace say "chill, dog" a few times and then heard what sounded like a bunk bed in Wallace's cell "sliding around." (Middleton Tr. Testimony at 5:2-6:22.) After that, the sounds "just stopped." (Middleton Dep. at 46:6-47:7; see also Middleton Tr. Testimony at 5:2-6:22.)

         Heavener conducted a count of the tier at approximately 6:05 p.m., just minutes after Middleton heard these sounds of "commotion" and "righting" in Wallace's cell. (Heavener Tr. Testimony at 15:3-16:21; Middleton Dep. at 47:8-49:15.) An officer's count involves looking into each cell on the tier to confirm that every inmate is accounted for and "living, breathing .. . alive." (Heavener Tr. Testimony at 15:6-16:1; see also Heavener Dep. at 34:1-35:6.) The cell doors remain closed during counts; the officers look in the cells via windows that are fourteen inches long and somewhere between four and seven inches wide. (Heavener Dep. at 34:2-36:2; Middleton Dep. at 18:19-19:3.) Heavener testified that, during his count that evening, he observed Wallace "on the top bunk [bed]" in his cell and Thompson standing, facing the window, (Heavener Tr. Testimony at 15:3-17:1.) He did not see or hear anything unusual. (Id.; see also Heavener Dep. at 118:13-119:10.) Middleton saw Heavener look in Wallace's cell and testified that Heavener "didn't have a reaction," so Middleton "thought everything must be cool." (Middleton Dep. at 47:8-49:21.)

         Approximately five minutes after Heavener conducted the count, the medical unit called the tier and requested that Thompson be sent to the unit for a urinalysis. (Middleton Dep. at 52:21-53:16; Heavener Tr. Testimony at 17:2-20:11, 44:4-46:21.) Accordingly, Thompson's cell was opened electronically to allow him to walk to the medical unit. (Heavener Tr. Testimony at 18:20-19:20.) Heavener, who was in the "control room" behind the tier, observed Thompson exit the tier and testified that he "appeared to be normal." (Id. at 20:6-22:15; see also Heavener Dep. at 126:18-127:7.) It was approximately 6:20 p.m. when Thompson left the tier. (M.S.J. Ex. 5 at 3, ECF No. 149-6.) By this time, he had already attacked Wallace. (See Heavener Tr. Testimony at 28:7-33:16; Heavener Dep. 135:13-138:10; Middleton Dep. at 53:5-54:10.)

         Heavener performed a walk of the tier at approximately 7:00 p.m. (Heavener Dep. at 121:4-21.) The purpose of a walk is to ensure the tier is secure but, unlike a count, it does not entail going down the tier roster and confirming that every inmate on the tier is where they are supposed to be. (Id. at 78:18-83:1, 154:14-160:14; see also Middleton Dep. at 30:18-41:7.) During his walk that evening, Heavener looked inside each of the cells on the tier and reported that the tier was secure. (Heavener Dep. at 121:4-123:11.)

         At approximately 7:30 p.m., the inmates on the tier were allowed out of their cells for recreational time. (Id.; Heavener Tr. Testimony at 67:20-68:15.) After the cell doors opened, Middleton observed several inmates "went to look into [Wallace's] cell." (Middleton Tr. Testimony at 7:16-8:5.) Middleton did not think anything of it and proceeded to the recreational area. (Middleton Dep. at 55:14-56:20.) A few minutes later, however, one of those inmates told Middleton that he thought Wallace was dead because "[Wallace] was just laying on the floor in his cell and he had some black stuff coming out of his face." (Middleton Tr. Testimony at 9:1-13.) Immediately after hearing this, Middleton approached Heavener and asked him to check on Wallace. (Id.; Middleton Dep. at 57:8-20.)

         Seconds after Middleton approached him, Heavener went to Wallace's cell along with CO William May, who was supervising a nearby tier that evening. (Heavener Dep. at 130:19-135:18; see also Middleton Dep. at 59:19-60:7.) Heavener "looked in" Wallace's cell through the cell window and "didn't see anything," so he called another CO and asked her to open the cell door electronically from the control room. (Heavener Dep. at 132:2-7.) Once the door to Wallace's cell opened, Heavener saw "blood all over the floor" and Wallace laying on the floor underneath the bunk bed with his "leg sticking out." (Heavener Tr. Testimony at 28:3-31:20; see also Heavener Dep. at 132:2-133:20.) At that time, either Heavener or May instructed another CO to contact the medical unit. (See Heavener Dep. at 134:4-6 ("[A]s soon as we seen [Wallace's] foot was up under the bunk, I did ask Officer Riley to call medical at that time."); but see Heavener Tr. Testimony at 29:1-6 ("[B]efore we got to pull [Wallace] out I asked Officer May to contact the control center to send up the [ambulance] and to call medical."); see also Opp'n M.S. J. Ex. 6 at 7, ECF No. 152-6 (Heavener's statement to police on 09/13/13 that "Officer May notified the control center and instructed Officer Drew Cook to contact the medical department").)

         Heavener and May then entered Wallace's cell and pulled him out from under the bunk bed. (Heavener Dep. at 134:1-21.) Wallace was alive but was unresponsive and was having difficulty breathing. (Id.; Heavener Tr. Testimony at 61:1-10.) Heavener observed that Wallace had significant facial damage and that there was something "that looked like brain matter" on the floor around him. (Heavener Tr. Testimony at 30:8-31:20; see also Heavener Dep. at 135:1-12.) Heavener and May placed Wallace on his side "so he would be able to breathe better." (Heavener Dep. at 134:4-12.) Shortly thereafter, the medical unit arrived and transported Wallace to a nearby hospital. (Id.; Opp'n M.S.J. Ex. 6 at 7, 9, ECF No. 152-6.)

         Wallace died at approximately 9:00 p.m. that evening from massive head trauma and other injuries he sustained during Thompson's attack. (Opp'n M.S.J. Ex. 6 at 4, 9, ECF No. 152-6.) In May 2016, Thompson was ...

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