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Jones v. Henderson County Detention Denter

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

February 13, 2017



          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant Jenny Griffith, (Doc. No. 28).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Pro se Plaintiff Dustin Jones, a former North Carolina prisoner, filed this action on July 6, 2015, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging claims of excessive force and failure to protect against the moving Defendant Jenny Griffith, a Henderson County Sheriff's Office deputy at all relevant times. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff also purported to bring a claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against Darla Dunaway, a nurse at the jail. Finally, Plaintiff also purported to name as a defendant the Henderson County Detention Center (“the jail”). On October 14, 2015, after initial review, this Court dismissed the jail as a Defendant, held that Plaintiff stated a claim against Griffith for excessive force and failure to protect only, and ordered Plaintiff to add more factual allegations concerning personal participation by Dunaway. (Doc. No. 7). The Court ultimately dismissed all claims against Dunaway on July 5, 2016. (Doc. No. 20). Plaintiff's only remaining claims are against movant Defendant Griffith for excessive force and failure to protect.

         On December 9, 2016, Defendant filed the pending summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 28). On December 12, 2016, this Court entered an order in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the requirements for filing a response to the motion for summary judgment and of the manner in which evidence could be submitted to the Court. (Doc. No. 29). Plaintiff did not respond to the summary judgment motion, and the time to do so has passed.[1]

         B. Factual Background

         1. The Alleged Excessive Force Incident and the Summary Judgment Evidence

         a. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Because Plaintiff did not present any evidence on summary judgment, the Court has before it only the allegations made in the Complaint. Plaintiff alleged in the Complaint that on May 16, 2015:

I . . . [w]as attacked in my cell at Henderson County Detention Center. I am a keep away on 23-hour lock down. I was in my cell and had just finished my lunch tray and was at my cell door waiting to place my tray outside it. They do not allow inmates to be out during lunch. Only after lunch to pick up trays. On this day they had let some inmates out before we put our trays out . . . . They watch our doors opening them one at a time so we can place our trays outside of them. [Inmate Gordon] had walked to my door and was pacing back and forward in front of it waiting on them to open it.
When they opened it [the other inmate] leaped in my cell and started attacking me by punching me in the head and face. While watching they close[d] the door behind him where I cannot escape the attack. Finally they come to the door open it and shoot me with a tazer. They start tazing me while I am still being attacked. After finally stopping the attack the nurse checks me deciding immediately I need to go to the nearest emergency room. While taking me out they inform me that it was a rule that I had to be charged with assault and battery, lose my canteen and visitations for 2 weeks.
I get to the hospital . . . where the doctors and nurses have to glue my eyebrow back together.
Both my eyes were black and my right eye was swelled shut. The doctor requested me seeing a follow-up with a specialist for the wounds and to check my vision which I never got. It took weeks for my face to heal but the trauma and fear from the attack never has. Every time the doors open and close I am traumatized. I can't sleep or eat well. These doors open all day and night and are very noisy. I stay in fear and am very jumpy. They later charged me with assault and battery . . . . It was dismissed but is still on my record where I was charged and looks very bad on my court case and I am still traumatized and remain in fear. And I am permanently scarred on my face.

(Doc. No. 1 at 6).

         b. Defendant's Summary Judgment Materials

         In support of the summary judgment motion, Defendant Jenny Griffith has submitted as exhibits excerpts from Plaintiff's deposition and Defendant's own sworn declaration.[2] (Doc. No. 28-3: Pl.'s Dep.; Doc. No. 28-4: Griffith Decl.). Defendant's evidence on summary judgment shows that Plaintiff was incarcerated in the jail in March 2015 after being arrested for assault with a deadly weapon for shooting someone. (Doc. No. 28-3 at 11: 24-25; 12: 1-4, 19-21). Due to the nature of these charges, Plaintiff was placed in the Special Housing Unit, where he was let out of his cell for one hour a day and had no contact with other inmates. (Id. at 15: 12-17, 20- 24). Griffith was a deputy sheriff in the detention division and was assigned to supervise inmates at the jail. (Doc. No. 28-4 at ¶ 3). Inmate Michael Gordon was also incarcerated in special housing. (Doc. No. 28-3 at 15: 22-25; 16: 1). Before May 16, 2015, Plaintiff and Gordon were “friends” and “old acquaintances, ” whose parents went to church together, and who Plaintiff characterized as a “good friend[], ” up until he was assaulted by Gordon in jail. (Id. at 13: 18-20; 14: 1-21). During their time in jail together from March until May 16, 2015, they saw each other and said “what's up or something like that” without any altercations. (Id. at 16: 21-24; 42: 21-25; 43: 1-2).

         On May 16, 2015, Plaintiff had just finished dinner in his cell, and he was waiting to have his cell door unlocked to put his tray out.[3] When Plaintiff finished his meal, he was “standing in his cell waiting to kick [his] tray out, ” and Plaintiff observed Gordon walking in front of Plaintiff's cell. (Id. at 43: 6-21). When Plaintiff's cell door opened to allow him to put his tray out, Gordon jumped in the cell. (Id. at 13: 24-25). Gordon then started hitting Plaintiff in the left side of the head. (Id. at 25: 10-16). In order to defend himself, Plaintiff grabbed Gordon and swung him around behind Plaintiff. (Id. at 25: 17-22). During the altercation, ...

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