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Ozah v. Fretwell

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 28, 2019




         Plaintiff William Ozah filed the above-captioned civil rights action alleging that he was assaulted by correctional officers while a pretrial detainee. ECF No. 1. The defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 17. Ozah filed a Response in Opposition. ECF No. 21.

         The matter is now ripe for review. The court finds a hearing in these matters unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, the defendants' dispositive Motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, will be DENIED as to Defendants Fretwell, Graves and Poole, and GRANTED as to Defendant Diedrich. Plaintiffs Motion to Appoint Counsel, ECF No. 13, will be GRANTED.


         A. Ozah's Allegations[1]

         Ozah's unsworn complaint predominately concerns the use of force that took place between him and Officers Fretwell and Graves while Ozah was a pretrial detainee at the St. Mary's County Detention Center (SMCDC). Unlike his complaint, Ozah's response in opposition to the pending dispositive motion is sworn. ECF No." 21-3.

         Ozah explains that on March 22, 2018, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Fretwell called Ozah to receive medication. ECF No. 1, p. 8. After Ozah received the medication, Fretwell, believing he did not take it, called over the intercom asking Ozah for the medication he had just received. Id. Ozah responded that he had swallowed it. Id.

         Fretwell and Graves then entered the dayroom, grabbed Ozah, and gave commands that he was to be strip searched. ECF No. 1, p. 8. Ozah attempted to comply with the officers' commands, but without warning, Fretwell grabbed him from behind and slammed him to the ground, knocking him unconscious. Id. Ozah maintains that he did not act aggressively when approached by Fretwell and Graves. ECF No. 21, p. 5. Ozah was then handcuffed and dragged by Graves and other unknown officers to a back room where he was assaulted. ECF No. 1, p. 8. He was in and out of consciousness and was repeatedly kicked and stomped by Graves and the other officers. Id.

         While handcuffed behind his back, Ozah was stripped of his pants and underwear and "sexually assaulted." ECF No. 1, p. 8. Ozah states that "private areas of the plaintiff were touched, lifted, and spread, without his consent in an act of voyeurism and harassment by officers, while plaintiff was unresponsive and in a state of unconsciousness against his will." Id.; see also ECF No. 21, p. 3. He was then put into a suicide gown and carried into a holding cell. ECF No. 1, p. 8.

         Several hours later, Ozah regained consciousness. Id. at 9. He had injuries to his head, neck, back, and ankle. Id. In response to his request for hospitalization, he was taunted by Graves who also used racial slurs. Id. Ozah was not provided lunch that afternoon, nor was he given toilet paper. Id.

         Ozah alleges that Fretwell and Graves maliciously assaulted him with the intent to cause harm. Id. at 8. As a result of the assault, Ozah continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, head trauma, neck and back pain, and his right ankle is injured. Id.

         In his affidavit attached to his opposition response, Ozah states:

On March 22, 2018, 1 was incarcerated in the St. Mary's County Detention center, in Leonardtown, Md. That morning I was called by Officer Fretwell to take my medication. I was then accused by him of not taking it and concealing it in my hand. He came into the dorm and asked me for the medication and I replied that I did not have it. I was then grabbed without warning by Officer Fretwell. I put my hands in the air not to show any signs of aggression. I was then grabbed from behind and slammed on my head, knocking me unconscious. I woke up being kicked, punched and in the nude with private parts being touched. I was then knocked back into a state of unconsciousness, later to wake up in the nude in a cell suffering head, neck, back, and 'right ankle' pain from injuries inflicted by officers at the St. Mary's County Detention Center.

ECF No.21-3, p.2.

         Ozah has provided portions of his medical records. Medical notes indicate that on March 22, 2018, he was assessed at approximately 9:40 a.m. ECF No. 21-1, p. 5. He responded to a sternal rub and his blood pressure was elevated. Id. He reported that his head hurt but the right side of his head did not show anything noteworthy. Id. He was strip searched and his vital signs were again assessed; his blood pressure remained high at 150/82-88. Id. The notes indicate that the responding nurse was told that Ozah "likes to 'act' like this when has a court date." Id. He was assessed again approximately two hours later. Id. The provider indicated that when they attempted the pupil reaction check, it "felt as though [the eye lids] were being actively held shut." Id.

         Ozah submitted sick call slips on March 23, 29, April 3, and April 10, 2018, complaining of neck, ankle, and lower back pain. ECF No. 21-1, p. 3. The notes indicate he received an x-ray of his ankle, but the results are not provided. Id. Additionally, on April 6, 2018, Ozah reported to medical with a bloody nose. Id. at 5. He complained that this head hurt, he felt dizzy, and that when he leaned forward his nose began to bleed. Id. Ozah also provided medical records from his current place of incarceration which reveal he has been treated for back pain; Ozah attributes this pain to the March 22, 2018, incident. ECF No. 21-2.

         As to the supervisory defendants, Ozah explains that Captain Diedrich is the Commander of Correction whose duties include "managing the daily operation of the St. Mary's County Detention Center." ECF No. 1, p. 5. Ozah alleges that Diedrich violated his constitutional rights by failing to protect him from the assault and misconduct of the officers. ECF No. 1, p. 6.

         Specifically, Ozah alleges:

Diedrich is in the position to set the policies on the code of conduct for the officers, prohibit the use of excessive force, and the proper procedures for the strip searching of inmates to protect inmates from sexual assault. Defendant Diedrich's negligence allowed the two defendants, ;James Fretwell #348 and CFC Graves #773, as well as other unknown officers at this time, the opportunity to assault, use excessive force, and sexually assault inmates incarcerated in the Detention Center, such as the plaintiff William Ozah.

Id. Ozah also filed a grievance that he submitted to Deidrich, which Diedrich denied. ECF No. 9..

         Sergeant C. Poole is the shift supervisor whose duties include "managing the daily operation of the assigned shift at the St. Mary's County Detention Center." ECF No. 1, p.

         4. Ozah alleges:

Defendant Sergeant C. Poole, #739 failed in her duties as the shift supervisor, by failure to take action and allowed officers to operate on her shift, with misconduct, Defendant Sgt. Poole #739 knew or should have been aware that the two defendants, James Fretwell #348 and CFC Graves #773, had assaulted and were strip searching an unconscious inmate, the plaintiff William Ozah.

Id. at 6. In his opposition response, Ozah notes that Poole was present during the assault and failed to protect him from harm by the conduct of the other officers. Id.

         Lastly, in his opposition response, Ozah offers that he was accused and criminally charged with exposing himself to a female staff member on March 19, 2018. ECF No. 21, p. 3; see also ECF No. 17-21; ECF No. 17-22. Ozah claims in his opposition, for the first time, that the assault by officers on the same shift on March 22, 2018, was in retaliation for Ozah's prior conduct. ECF No. 21, p. 3.

         As relief, Ozah seeks monetary damages. ECF No. 1, p. 10 (as amended by ECF Nos. 19, 20).

         B. Defendants' Response and Exhibits

         In response to Ozah's allegations, the defendants have submitted affidavits from Defendants Fretwell, Graves and Poole, excerpts from Ozah's medical records, a ...

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