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Shields v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 2, 2019

REGINA SHIELDS Individually and as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Samuel Shields Plaintiff,
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Samuel Shields died while detained at the Prince George's County Correctional Facility on June 17, 2014 after being arrested for failing to pay a bus fare. Mr. Shields's spouse, Plaintiff Regina Shields, filed this action, individually and on behalf of Mr. Shields's estate, against Prince George's County, Maryland (PG County) and Correctional Officers Chandler Hines, Andrew Jackson, Erik Wood, Keith Funderburk, Emmanuel Odion, and Armando Rodriguez (collectively, the “Correctional Defendants”); and against Corizon Health Inc. and Nurses Zewdiensh Admassu and Gbemisola Adebayo (collectively, the “Corizon Defendants”). Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint alleges a variety of state and federal claims, including violations of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; violations of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and § 704 of the Rehabilitation Act; negligence; wrongful death pursuant to Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-901, et. seq.; assault and battery; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         After the parties completed Phase I of a bifurcated discovery process, the Defendants moved for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 131 & 139.[1] Specifically, the Corizon Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to Plaintiff's deliberate indifference claims, ECF No. 131, and the Correctional Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims brought against them, ECF No. 134. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).

         Plaintiff now concedes that Counts XII, XIII, and XIV fail as a matter of law, and that governmental immunity precludes negligence claims asserted against Defendant PG County. ECF No. 150-1 at 11-12 ¶¶ 1-3. Based on these concessions, the Court will grant the Correctional Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to these Counts and issues. Otherwise, for the following reasons, the Correctional Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part; and the Corizon Defendants' partial Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         A. Lead up to Mr. Shields's Arrest

         Mr. Shields was forty-nine and suffered from several medical conditions, including hypertension, congestive heart failure, atypical chest pain, chronic renal insufficiency, diabetes, asthma, psychosis, and schizophrenia. ECF No. 131-3 at 2.[3] He weighed 347 pounds and was six feet tall. ECF No. 134-23.

         As a symptom of his schizophrenia, Mr. Shields would sometimes suffer from what his wife, Plaintiff Regina Shields, described as manic episodes. ECF No. 131-4 at 45:1-3, 61:6-21. Around June 13, 2014, Plaintiff noticed that Mr. Shields had begun to exhibit symptoms of another “episode.” Id. at 59:21, 60:1, 61:4-5. He began calling her “the devil” and acting strangely. Id. at 60:2-25, 63:14-21, 64:1-6. They were staying with Plaintiff's daughter at the time, and when her daughter noticed Mr. Shields's strange behavior, she asked that Mr. Shields go to his sister's house for a while to give her a break. Id. at 66:13-16. Plaintiff and Mr. Shields ended up sleeping in the hallway of the apartment building. Id. at 71:14-21. The next morning, Plaintiff and Mr. Shields started to walk together to McDonald's for breakfast. Id. at 73:8-17. Plaintiff thought that Mr. Shields was following her because he would often walk behind her, but when she arrived, she realized Mr. Shields had not followed her. Id. For the next several hours, Plaintiff tried to locate her husband. Id. at 74:3-17. She continued to look for him for the next few days. Id. 74:20-21.

         B. Detention Center Processing and Isolation

         On June 17, 2014, Mr. Shields was arrested for failing to pay a bus fare. ECF No. 134-13 at 2. He was pepper sprayed and eventually transported to the Prince George's County Detention Center. Id.; ECF. 131-4 at 12-21, 80:1.

         He arrived at the detention center around 12:38pm. ECF No. 147-5 at 2. Correctional officers inventoried his personal effects, including multiple prescription drugs. Id.; ECF No. 148-10 at 3; ECF No. 148-7 at 19:2-5. The medications that were in Mr. Shields's possession included carvedilol, torsemide, hydralazine, isosorbide, spironolactone, lisinopril, and an inhaler. ECF No. 148-7 at 20:4-6. These medications are for high blood pressure, heart failure, chest pain, and respiratory problems, respectively. Id. at 20:9-21:2. The correctional officer who checked in Mr. Shields's personal effects noted that “he had a lot of medication.” ECF No. 148-10 at 3. This raised a concern for her that Mr. Shields might have preexisting medical conditions. Id. Based on this concern, she asked Mr. Shields, who was loudly singing in the processing area, whether he had any injuries from his arrest and for his medical history. Id. at 2. He “kept singing, ” rather than answering her questions. Id. Other correctional officers at intake also observed Mr. Shields singing to himself and speaking indiscernibly. ECF No. 134-14 at 2; ECF No. 134-15 at 2.

         Plaintiff's expert in emergency medical care, Andrew Lawson, M.D., reviewed video of Mr. Shields during this period and noted that Mr. Shields was “talking to himself loudly, and it was hard to understand what he was saying” because it “sounded like gibberish.” ECF No. 48-4 at 11:23-12:1. According to Dr. Lawson, Mr. Shields was possibly experiencing “auditory hallucinations”; appeared “withdrawn”; was not making eye contact; and was “distracted by the singing and thoughts, or at least the things he [was] saying to himself.” Id. at 12:2-6. He appeared, “just by the way he [was] holding himself and the lack of his ability to follow basic commands” to be “mentally ill.” Id. at 14:20-15:4.

         When someone comes into the detention center and is demonstrating symptoms of a mental health issue, correctional offices “do a psych form, ” contact the mental health providers with the medical unit, and “expedite” the detainee to a “safer environment.” ECF No. 145-2 at 37:21-38:3. Sometimes if a detainee is “agitated and combative and unable to stay” in the processing area, he will be brought to the medical unit. ECF No. 145-3 at 137:7-12. The nurses “call the doctor or the psychiatrist” for an order, which allows medical to keep the detainee. ECF No. 145-3 at 137:7-15. Drawing all reasonable inferences in Mr. Shields's favor, no one filled out a mental health form in reference to Mr. Shields. ECF No. 134-10 at 18:4-7.

         Shortly after he arrived, correctional officers decided to place Mr. Shields in full restraints because he continued being loud and singing. ECF No. 134-15 at 2; ECF No. 148-10 at 2; ECF No. 147-4 at 49:1-12. Mr. Shields was moved to an isolation cell without incident, ECF No. 134-15 at 2, and he was left in the restraints in isolation for approximately eight hours. ECF No. 147-4 at 46:9-12, 49:1-12. Drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor, during this time, Mr. Shields did not have access to his medications. ECF No. 148-4 at 64:18.

         At the time, Alesia Burr was employed as the shift commander responsible for the detention center's processing and reception area. ECF No. 134-10 at 10:13-22, 11:1-13. Around 8:45pm, Burr and another officer removed Mr. Shields's restraints and let him out of the isolation cell, returning him to the processing area. ECF No. 147-5 at 2. For the next hour or so, Mr. Shields moved around various chairs in the processing area, getting up and sitting back down often. Id. Burr noticed that Mr. Shields came in with a lot of medication and called the center's medical desk. ECF No. 134-10 at 18:22-19:3. She “read off the medicines” and someone told her “to get him to the medical unit.” Id. at 19:2-3. Mr. Shields was not combative towards Burr and she observed him to be “a compliant person.” ECF No. 145-2 at 43:20, 44:6-7. However, he was not complying with her order to get up from the processing area and get dressed in a detention center uniform. Id. 45:12-13. Burr cannot recall whether Mr. Shields said anything in response to her order. Id. at 45:14-15. And he did not make any movements towards her. Id. at 45:16-18. He appeared agitated and was speaking loudly. ECF No. 147-5 at 2.

         C. Emergency Response Team Incident

         At 9:56pm, Burr called the Emergency Response Team (ERT) to help Mr. Shields get dressed in a detention center uniform so that he could be taken to the medical unit. ECF No. 145-2 at 44:16-17, 48:5-8. The ERT team sometimes helps inmates with mental health challenges get changed. Id. 48:9-14. As Burr explained, “[e]veryone has to get dressed one way, ” so sometimes the ERT team observes while “the detainees do it on their own, ” and other times they “help them and assist them getting their clothes changed.” Id. at 45:5-14. Typically, inmates must change into a detention center uniform before they can leave the processing area to go to the medical unit. ECF No. 134-10 at 55:10-14, 57:4-6, 58:15-19. But exceptions are made when appropriate. ECF No. 145-3 at 137:7-15, 138:1-3.[4]

         The ERT unit that responded to Burr's signal of a “minor disturbance” consisted of Emanuel Odion, Erik Wood, Andrew Jackson, Keith Funderburk, Chandler Hines, and Armando Rodriguez. ECF No. 134-4 at 26:9-13, 60:13-16; ECF No. 134-5 at 31:22-32:1-5, 46:6-13, 50:14-16; ECF No. 134-6 at 37:13-15; ECF No. 134-7 at 13:1-17, 14:9-11, 38:7-14; ECF No. 134-8 at 25:17-20; ECF No. 134-9 at 17:3-7, 17:19-22, 18:2.

         Odion was the unit's supervisor and responsible for the team. ECF No. 134-4 at 60:7-10; ECF No. 134-8 at 76:10-19, 80:7-14. Rodriguez outranked Funderburk, Wood, and Jackson. ECF No. 146-2 at 206:13-14. Hines was also a superior officer to Funderburk, Wood, and Jackson. Id. at 206:15-17; ECF No. 147-2 at 130:4-131:15.

         When the ERT officers arrived in the processing area, Burr told them that personnel from the medical unit had asked that Mr. Shields be expedited to the medical unit. ECF No. 145-2 at 104:14-20. Rodriguez began filming the encounter with Mr. Shields. ECF No. 134-5 at 138: 6- 9; ECF No. 134-9 at 66:1-8; ECF No. 145-8.[5] Odion ordered Mr. Shields to get on the floor and place his hands behind his back, but Mr. Shields did not comply and continued to sit in a chair and speak loudly. ECF No. 147-6 at 6. Wood, Funderburk, and Odion then used two pairs of handcuffs (because of Mr. Shields's size) to restrain Mr. Shields, securing his wrists behind his back. Id.; ECF No. 145-8 at 00:30. Wood and Funderburk then escorted him to a search room. ECF No. 145-8 at 1:05. Mr. Shields continued to speak in a loud voice and passively resisted the officers, not moving along with them. Id. Wood and Funderburk therefore used knee strikes to Mr. Shields's peroneal nerve to make him walk. Id. at 2:42; ECF No. 147-6 at 6.

         Once Mr. Shields was moved into the search room, the video of the encounter no longer shows a clear view of him. ECF No. 145-8 at 2:48. Instead, the video shows a view of what is going on outside the search room. Id. Officers inside the search room slapped and struck Mr. Shields and commanded him to lift his arms up and stand up. Id. at 3:28, 4:18, 6:40. Mr. Shields yelled things like “blood clot, ” which is a Jamaican slang showing disgust, id. at 4:18; ECF No. 147-6 at 6, “aiyee, ” ECF No. 145-8 at 8:11, and “murder, ” id. at 11:08. Officers cursed at Mr. Shields, including calling him a “stupid mother fucker” and asking, “what's wrong with your ass.” Id. at 2:55, 5:21; EF No. 149-3 at 268:18-22. Hines handed Jackson a shoe and the next moment slapping sounds consistent with Mr. Shields being struck by the shoe can be heard in the video. ECF No. 145-8 at 3:18. Odion testified at his deposition that it would not have been permissible for the ERT unit to use shoes as a weapon. ECF No. 145-6 at 149:14-16.

         At one point, in response to a command that he stand up, Mr. Shields said that he could not get up because of his knee. ECF No. 145-8 at 6:45; see also ECF No. 145-6 at 165:8-167:6. Based on the way Mr. Shields was “talking just real loud, yelling and stuff, ” Rodriguez “knew something was wrong” with Mr. Shields mentally or emotionally, but “didn't know what it was.” ECF No. 145-5 at 70:9-11, 72:4-5. However, Wood, Hines, and Funderburk claim that they either did not know that Mr. Shields suffered from a mental illness, could not make that determination, or could not recall Mr. Shields's demeanor. ECF No. 134-5 at 132:2-5, 132:14- 16; ECF No. 134-7 at 107:20-21, 149:22-150:20 ECF No. 134-8 at 92:22-93:1-6. The record does not include evidence about whether Jackson knew that Mr. Shields had a mental illness.

         At one point, Hines took out a pepper spray canister and began to shake it, stating “if you do not comply you will be sprayed.” ECF No. 147-6 at 7; ECF No. 145-8 at 11:55. However, Odion had talked to a personnel officer and learned that Mr. Shields was asthmatic, ECF No. 145-6 at 168:4-7; he conveyed this information to Hines, and Hines holstered the spray canister. ECF No. 145-8 at 12:55. Shields continued to yell, at times incomprehensibly. Id. at 13:04.

         Realizing that Mr. Shields may not be understanding the ERT unit's commands, Hines called over Officer Junior Granville, who is of Jamaican descent, to try to communicate with Mr. Shields. Id. at 13:25; ECF No. 147-6 at 7.[6] Speaking in the same Jamaican dialect as Mr. Shields, Granville told Mr. Shields to get dressed. ECF No. 134-22. However, Granville told Odion that Shields did not comprehend the command. ECF No. 145-6 at 182:6-7. Shields began to yell “murder” again, ECF No. 145-8 at 14:18, and eventually Granville walked away laughing, id. at 15:40. When asked at his deposition about what he does when he determines or believes that a detainee does not understand his orders, Funderburk responded that he would most likely use physical force. ECF No. 149-3 at 156:11-18.

         A witness, Latonya Freeman, who had a “good visual of everything” testified at her deposition that after ten or fifteen minutes of back and forth between the officers and Mr. Shields “that's when they started hitting him and kicking him, they literally was hitting them with their fists, kicking them with their feet, or their boots, which were huge, and then they were taking their sticks or whatever was on them and hitting him with it.” ECF No. 145-4 at 42:7-12; see also ECF No. 145-8 at 16:48-19:52. Wood admitted at his deposition that he did punch Mr. Shields in the dressing room. ECF No. 146-2 at 201:17-21. Funderburk says that he used “brachial stuns” on Mr. Shields.

         Freeman noted that from her vantage point, Mr. Shields “wasn't a danger, ” and “never tried to do anything to anybody” before he entered the dressing room. ECF No. 145-4 at 49:19- 21. She saw that “he was just sitting” and “wouldn't get up.” Id. 49:19-50:1. Once Mr. Shields was in the dressing room, Freeman recalls that “he wasn't fighting back” but he also was not “just laying there, ” id. 72:7-14; instead, he did “squirm” the way a child might if they were trying to get away. Id.

         In the opinion of Plaintiff's correctional expert, Tim Gravette, “[i]t's not necessary to strike someone to make them change their clothes.” ECF No. 147-4 at 30:21-25. As he explained, “if Mr. Shields was fighting with them, lunging at them, all kinds of different things, that's different, but he wasn't doing that.” Id. According to Gravette, there was no basis for the officers to strike Mr. Shields once he was inside the dressing room “because none of the officers reported that he was striking or attempting to strike them, ” and their goal was to change his clothes. Id. at 103:14-104:5. The “common-sense thing and practical thing” would have been for the ERT unit to “restrain him, ” “lay him on a bed, ” and use “safety scissors” to “cut his clothes off him.” Id. at 29:12-18. Alternatively, it was not necessary for Mr. Shields to be changed into the detention center's uniform before he was seen by medical personnel. Id. at 118:5-20. In Gravette's opinion, based on the characteristics displayed by Mr. Shields, officers should have taken him to get evaluated by a mental health professional. Id. 119:2-15. Gravette further opined that the ERT officers should have changed their approach “[b]ecause it wasn't working” and they were putting themselves and Mr. Shields at risk of getting hurt. Id. at 114:3-6. Even with a disruptive inmate, it makes sense for officers to change their approach within about six minutes of realizing they are not successfully achieving their goal. Id. 113:20-25.

         In Gravette's opinion, only Funderburk, Jackson, and Wood-“predominantly, Wood and Funderburk”-used unreasonable force. ECF No. 147-4 at 79:23-80:3. Odion never had physical contact with Mr. Shields once he was inside the dressing room and the force used before that was reasonable. ECF No 147-4 at 25:23-25. Hines only had physical contact with Mr. Shields when he used a baton to strike Mr. Shields's arm after Mr. Shields grabbed Odion's leg. Id. at 25:13- 20, 80:5-9. This force was reasonably deployed. Id. Gravette did not consider Mr. Shields's behavior to be “physically aggressive” and concluded that Mr. Shields did not assault anyone. Id. at 53:2-20. He explained that although the correctional officers reported that Mr. Shields kicked Jackson and grabbed Odion's leg, “when you got that type of situation going on, sometimes you do get kicked in the shin or something like that. But I didn't deem that as an assault, as an assaultive behavior.” Id. at 53:11-20.

         Freeman estimates members of the ERT unit “were just beating” Mr. Shields as “he was just yelling and screaming” for between five and ten minutes. ECF No. 145-4 at 43:1-4. During this time, Mr. Shields was yelling “murder, ” ECF No. 145-8 at 17:10, and “no no, ” id. at 17:52, and was moaning, id. at 18:21. Then, “all of a sudden, ” the yelling stopped because Mr. Shields had become unconscious, and correctional officers “pulled [Mr. Shields] out into the hallway” ECF No. 145-4 at 42:20-43:11; ECF No. 145-8 at 19:52. The other women observing the situation from Freeman's position were yelling “You killed him. You killed him.” ECF No. 145-4 at 48:16-17. Freeman remembers saying to them “Be quiet before they come kill us.” Id. at 47:19-20.

         D. Signal 89 - Medical Emergency

         Mr. Shields's handcuffs were removed after he became unconscious. ECF No. 134-4 at 254:17-20. Once ERT officers realized that Mr. Shields was unresponsive, they provided emergency medical assistance, including CPR. ECF No. 134-5 at 168:8-14, 169:18-22, 170:2-8, 171:6-10, 172:2-173: 1-3, 174:2-4, 195:12-14, 208:4-10, 209:13-17, 210:9-13, 214:9-11, 215:2-10, 215:19-22; 216:12-217:1-22. All correctional officers and ERT members are required to be certified in CPR. ECF No. 131-4 at 284:4-9.

         Mr. Shields was breathing when ERT officers were providing emergency medical assistance. ECF No. 134-7 at 354:3-9. The ERT officers called a “Signal 89” to indicate a medical emergency two minutes after they began CPR. ECF No. 139-6 at 5; ECF No. 145-8 at 22:20. Two nurses-Nurses Admassu and Adebayo-then arrived at the scene. ECF No. 139-6 at 5; ECF No. 145-8 at 22:23; ECF No. 134-11 at 20: 1-17, 22:7-20, 30:6-8; ECF No. 134-12 at 11:1-6, 23:5-9, 24:11-22, 25:11-18. About thirty seconds later, a correctional officer stated, “call 911.” ECF No. 139-6 at 5; ECF No. 145-8 at 22:20:30.

         The Nurses were employed by Corizon Inc, a medical contractor, which provides medical and mental health treatment to detainees at the detention center. ECF No. 134-10 at 101:17-22, 102:20-22, 103:1-5. When Nurse Admassu first arrived at the scene, Mr. Shields was laying on the ground, and correctional officers, whom she knew to be trained in CPR, were performing chest compressions. ECF No. 131-7 at 8-19. She then checked his pulse and his breathing. Id. at 45:13-22, 46:1-7. However, she failed to check his pulse for the necessary five to ten seconds, only checking for a pulse for three seconds, and failing to position his neck properly to determine a pulse. ECF No. 139-6 at 6. Because of Mr. Shields's size, placing fingers on his neck for three seconds was “not an effective way” to check his pulse. ECF No. 139-5 at 71:9-17. She also did not check his airway or to see if his chest was rising. Id. at 72: 2-3. Nurse Admassu also failed to to check for a pulse every two minutes. ECF No. 139-6 at 6. As a result, she could not know whether “he was really oxygenating” such that CPR could have been effective. ECF No. 139-5 at 71:25-72:5. Nurse Admassu testified at her deposition that after checking Mr. Shields's pulse, she then gave the correctional officers instructions to continue chest compressions and was “observing all over and assisting whatever help they need[ed].” ECF No. 131-7 at 46:2-11.

         Nurse Adebayo had never utilized an ambu bag, a medical device used for aeration, prior to this incident but had received specialized training on its proper usage during her nursing training. ECF No. 131-8 at 68:3-20. Prior to this incident, Nurse Adebayo had never responded to a scene of an individual who was unconscious or not breathing, or of an individual who did not have a pulse. Id. at 73:11-22, 74:1-3. Nurse Adebayo substituted the ERT unit's rescue breaths by using the ambu bag for aeration, but after thirty seconds, a correctional officer yelled “pump it” because she was not fully squeezing the bag. ECF No. 139-6 at 5; ECF No. 145-8 at 22:24. She also did not secure the ambu mask to cover Mr. Shields's airway, meaning proper aeration could not have been achieved. ECF No. 139-5 at 70:8-72:15; ECF No. 139-6 at 6. She failed to assess whether Mr. Shields's chest was rising or aerating during breaths, and there were several interruptions in ventilation. ECF No. 139-6 at 6. Nurse Admassu testified that she supervised the use of the ambu bag and believed it was properly used. ECF No. 131-7 at 47:12- 16. In the meantime, another nurse went to retrieve an oxygen tank, which was attached to the ambu bag when she returned. ECF No. 139-6 at 5; ECF No. 145-5 at 22:27.

         Rodriguez expressed frustrations with the way the nurses handled the medical emergency. ECF No. 139-4 at 98:2-4. He testified at his deposition that he was concerned about “the way they were doing the CPR.” Id. According to him, “we, ” meaning the ERT unit, “were doing everything, basically, ” even though the medical staff “should have taken over.” Id. at 98:3-6. While the ERT staff “were doing the breathing, the pumps, the 30 pumps, ” the nurses were “in panic mode.” Id. at 99:5-8.

         After between seven and nine minutes of CPR, a correctional officer suggested using the AED (defibrillator). ECF No. 139-5 at 74:18-19; ECF No. 145-5 at 22:27:03. Nurse Admassu and another nurse took about two minutes to set up the AED, which according to Plaintiff's expert in the nursing standard of care, suggests that “they were uncomfortable with how to use it.” ECF No. 139-5 at 76:18-22. The AED pads were placed on Mr. Shields's left breast and upper abdomen even though for someone of Mr. Shields's size this was not the proper placement. Id. at 77:7-12. The pads should have been placed to the left of Mr. Shields's nipple and on the midline of his chest so that he could get a shock. Id.

         Freeman could not see precisely what medical staff were doing because of Mr. Shields's position on the floor, ECF No. 131-9 at 116:19-20, but it appeared to her that the correctional and medical staff were genuinely attempting to resuscitate Mr. Shields, id. at 114:15-19, 123:8- 11. Consistent with what Freeman witnessed, Plaintiff's expert in the nursing standard explained that while watching the video of the code response she “witnessed an attempt at resuscitation” and ...


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