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Stafford v. Murray

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division

February 6, 2017

FNU MURRAY, et al., Defendants.


          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants FNU Copeland, FNU Murray, and FNU Quigley. (Doc. No. 87).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Pro se Plaintiff Damon Demond Stafford, a North Carolina inmate incarcerated at Scotland Correctional Institution in Laurinburg, North Carolina, filed this action on November 17, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He filed a verified Amended Complaint on June 1, 2015. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to excessive force on July 30, 2014, when he was incarcerated at Alexander Correctional Institution. Plaintiff originally named five Defendants, but all Defendants except for moving Defendants Copeland, Murray, and Quigley have been dismissed from the case.

         Defendants filed the pending summary judgment motion on August 30, 2016. (Doc. No. 87). On August 31, 2016, this Court entered an order in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975). (Doc. No. 91). Plaintiff filed a response to the summary judgment motion on October 17, 2016. (Doc. No. 95).

         B. Factual Background

         1. Plaintiff's Allegations

         In his verified Amended Complaint, Plaintiff states that while he was housed at Alexander Correctional Institution (“Alexander”), on July 30, 2014, he was on a hunger strike and was found on the floor of his cell. (Doc. No. 12 at 3). While Plaintiff was taken by wheelchair to the main medical area, Defendants Murray and Copeland allegedly expressed frustration with inmates on hunger strikes. (Id. at 5). When they reached the main medical area, Defendant Quigley began to change Plaintiff's restraints. (Id.). Quigley placed handcuffs, shackles (leg irons), and a waist chain on Plaintiff and then instructed him to “turn his hands one over the other” so Quigley could secure Plaintiff's handcuffs to his waist chain. (Id.). Plaintiff refused and told Quigley that the black box could be applied the “normal” way. (Id.). Plaintiff claims that he was secured in that fashion just days earlier. (Id.).

         Murray then told Quigley to “twist his wrists” and grabbed Plaintiff's left wrist. (Id.). Quigley took hold of Plaintiff's left wrist and Copeland grabbed Plaintiff around the right side of the neck, choking him. (Id. at 5-6). Murray then ordered Copeland to flip over the wheelchair. (Id. at 6). Quigley and Murray “dove” on Plaintiff and Murray pushed Plaintiff's forehead with his arm, causing it to hit the floor and “split.” (Id.). Murray instructed Copeland to “spray” him and then Plaintiff felt something hit the back of his head. (Id.). Plaintiff eventually complied and Quigley applied the black box to his handcuffs. (Id.). Captain Huneycutt arrived in the area and ordered statements to be taken. (Id.). Plaintiff was not taken to the hospital and photographs of Plaintiff were taken. (Id. at 6-7). Plaintiff claims that he injured his wrists, forehead, ear, and throat during the incident. (Id. at 7). Plaintiff also claims that Murray and Copeland were involved in other “questionable” force incidents. (Id. at 8).

         2. Defendants' Summary Judgment Materials

         In support of the summary judgment motion, Defendants rely on all pleadings, discovery responses, and materials in the case record. Defendants also rely on the affidavit of Lane Huneycutt, with supporting materials, and the affidavit of Daren Bruce, with exhibits. See (Doc. No. 88: Huneycutt Aff.). In his affidavit, Huneycutt explains that he was the first-shift Captain and Officer-in-Charge (“OIC”) at Alexander on July 30, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 4). On the date of the incident, Huneycutt was aware that Plaintiff was on a self-imposed hunger strike. Daren Bruce, former Assistant Superintendent of Operations at Alexander, explains that he was also at Alexander that day. (Doc. No. 89: Bruce Aff.). Plaintiff had been on a hunger strike to protest his placement in segregation due to a pending disciplinary investigation. See (Doc. No. 12 at 3). The investigation was the result of an incident on July 22, 2014, which resulted in disciplinary infractions for use of profane language and disobeying orders. A charge of actively rioting on July 22 was subsequently dismissed. (Doc. No. 89, Ex. A).

         Bruce recounts that Plaintiff had been disruptive on the segregation unit that week and was transported to the hospital after being found “unresponsive” due to his hunger strike on July 26, 2014. (Doc. No. 89, Ex. B). Bruce reviewed and approved the incident report from the July 26 transport. (Id.). Bruce explains that when inmates are called “unresponsive” by prison staff, it is not meant to indicate a medical diagnosis of that inmate because officers are not trained medical professionals. (Doc. No. 89 at ¶¶ 7-9). Instead, it indicates that the inmate simply will not communicate with staff from inside the cell. (Id.). When officers make rounds, look in cells, and observe inmates, they try to communicate with the inmates. (Id.). If the inmates do not respond to the officers attempts to communicate with them, then they are deemed “unresponsive, ” and staff begins a procedure to enter the cell and check the inmate's condition, which includes assembling a group of four or five staff members with a shield for their protection and a handheld video camera to record the entry to the cell, in the event force has to be used on the inmate because of their entry into the cell. (Id.). The officers also call a “Code Blue” to assemble correctional and medical staff at the cell. (Id.). If no force is used and the inmate is compliant when the officers enter the cell, the camera footage is not preserved because there was no force to document. (Id.). Further, when responding to the “Code Blue, ” medical staff at the cell is prepared for emergency because the medical condition of the inmate is not known before the officers enter the cell. (Id.). Thus, the presence of medical staff or medical equipment does not necessarily mean that the inmate requires some extensive medical treatment. (Id.). Bruce states that, in his twenty-six years of experience, he has learned that inmates often prefer to receive outside medical care because it allows them time out of their cell, in public, and, possibly, access to medical treatment, including medications, that they would have a more difficult time accessing in the prison. (Id. at ¶ 10). Unresponsiveness by an inmate will generate a response from medical staff and a possible transport for outside medical care. (Id.).

         On July 30, 2014, around 2:25 pm, officers working in Alexander segregation unit checked on Plaintiff during rounds and, on surveillance footage, are seen standing outside of Plaintiff's cell, looking into the cell and trying to communicate with him. (Doc. No. 89 at ¶ 14; Ex. C). Officers radioed for backup, which arrived at approximately 2:26 pm. (Id. at ¶ 15). Staff came to the cell with a shield and a handheld camera. (Id. at ¶ 16). Bruce again explains that staff initially began to film their entry to the cell, but did not continue recording or preserve the footage because, based on Bruce's observation of the surveillance footage, it was apparent that staff were not going to have to use force to remove Plaintiff from his cell. (Id.).

         The video shows that, at 2:27 pm, the officers have entered Plaintiff's cell and additional medical staff are seen arriving with a stretcher. (Id. at ¶ 17). Additional medical staff and medical equipment continue to arrive in the unit until 2:34 pm. (Id.). Both Murray and Copeland were working the segregation unit that day and were in the group of officers in the cell. (Id.). It does not appear that any force was used on Plaintiff whatsoever at this point. (Id. at ¶ 18). The officers appear to be talking, communicating, radioing, and even sitting inside of the cell and, according to Bruce, the officers appear fairly relaxed during the encounter. (Id.).

         At 2:34 pm, medical staff begin to exit the unit, taking the emergency medical equipment with them. (Id. at ¶ 19). At 2:41 pm, medical staff exited the cell. According to Bruce, based on his experience, this indicates that medical staff had evaluated Plaintiff and concluded that his medical condition did not require the additional staff or medical equipment. (Id.). At 2:42 pm, staff arrive with a wheelchair while the officer in the cell are talking and gesturing. (Id. at ¶ 20). The officers begin to move around 2:45 pm, presumably around Plaintiff to secure him and then assist him to stand and sit in the wheelchair. (Id.). At 2:47 pm, officers exit the cell, pushing Plaintiff, who appears conscious and calm, in a wheelchair.[1] (Id. at ¶ 21). The officers, including Murray and Copeland, continue talking and do not appear angered or frustrated with Plaintiff. (Id.). They exit the unit and leave the view of the surveillance camera by 2:48 pm. (Id.).

         After wheeling Plaintiff out of the unit, staff took him to the main medical area for further evaluation and transport to the local hospital. (Id.). According to Huneycutt, once the officers arrived in the main medical area, Officer Quigley, a transport/receiving area officer, responded to prepare and secure Plaintiff for transport to the hospital. (Doc. No. 88 at ¶¶ 15-16). To do so, Quigley began to secure Plaintiff with “receiving” restraints and to remove the restraints from the segregation unit, as per NCDPS and Alexander policies.[2] (Id. at ¶ 16; Ex. B). Quigley provided Huneycutt a written statement which states that he first applied the receiving handcuffs to Plaintiff and then removed the segregation unit's handcuffs and waist chain. (Id. at ¶ 18; Ex. C at 13). According to Huneycutt, at that point, Plaintiff would have been seated in the wheelchair but only secured with leg irons and handcuffs. (Doc. No. 88 at ¶ 18; Ex. C at 16). This is not considered “fully restrained.” (Doc. No. 88, Ex. B at 7, 26, 33; Ex. C at 16). And, it would allow Plaintiff a full range of motion with the handcuffs and the means and opportunity to assault staff or evade their attempts to restrain him. (Doc. No. 88 at ¶ 18; Ex. C at 16).

         To secure Plaintiff's black box, Quigley instructed Plaintiff to place his hands close to his waist, palms down and crossing at his wrists, but Plaintiff refused. (Doc. No. 88 at ¶ 19; Ex. C at 13). Copeland and Murray were standing next to Plaintiff and heard him tell Quigley, “I don't have to put my hands like that.” (Doc. No. 88, Ex. C at 10, 11). Quigley then told Plaintiff that he was restraining him according to policy and again ordered him to submit to the restraints. (Id.). Plaintiff again refused. (Id.). At that point, Sergeant Beal (Quigley's supervisor) told Plaintiff that Quigley was correct and ordered him to submit to the restraints. (Doc. No. 88 at ¶ 20; Ex. C at 17). Murray (Copeland's supervisor) also ordered Plaintiff to submit to the restraints and he refused. (Id.; Ex. C at 10).

         Plaintiff pulled his hands to his chest to avoid having them restrained to his waist. (Id. at ¶ 21). At the direction of the supervising officers, Quigley and Copeland attempted to place Plaintiff's wrists in the correct position so they could apply the black box. (Id.). As Copeland and Quigley were touching Plaintiff's wrists, he grabbed at Copeland's left hand and tried to bite Quigley. (Id. at ¶ 22; Ex. C at 10, 11, 13). Murray, seeing that Plaintiff was aggressive with the officers, ordered Copeland to administer OC (pepper) spray to Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 23; Ex. C at 10, 16). Plaintiff was continually being ordered to comply with orders during this time. (Id.).

         Copeland gave a short burst of OC spray to Plaintiff's facial area, which, according to Copeland and Quigley, caused Plaintiff to become more agitated and aggressive. (Id. at ¶ 24; Ex. C at 11, 13). The OC spray was administered in compliance with policies regarding its use. (Id., Ex. C at 16). Plaintiff's level of resistance increased and Copeland and Quigley (at their supervisor's direction) placed Plaintiff on the floor try to restrain him and stop him from assaulting them. (Id. at ¶ 25; Ex. C. at 16). The increasingly volatile situation required additional force to match the threat posed by Plaintiff. (Id.). Huneycutt states that, in his twenty-one years of experience, it is not uncommon for OC (or pepper) spray ...

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