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Adkins v. Martin

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

November 4, 2019

PAMELA MARTIN, et al., Defendants.


          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Pamela Martin's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 66). Also pending are several Motions filed by the pro se Plaintiff. See (Doc. Nos. 65, 77).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, (Doc. No. 17), passed initial review a claim that Defendant Martin used excessive force against him, (Doc. No. 18). Defendant Martin has now filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 66), that is presently pending before the Court. Plaintiff has filed a Response and Defendants had the opportunity to reply. Plaintiff has also filed Notice Motion to Clerk of Court of Defendants Pamela Martin is Not No. Official State Employee, (Doc. No. 65), and a Second Request for Production of Documents, (Doc. No. 77), that are pending consideration.

         (1) Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 17)

         Plaintiff alleges in the Amended Complaint that Defendant Martin came to escort Plaintiff from the recreation cell back to his own cell on October 6, 2017. Plaintiff told Defendant Martin that he had been asking her for the television remote control ever since she put him in the recreation cell. She responded that she had been busy and forgot. Defendant Martin cuffed Plaintiff's hands in front of his body, removed him from the cell, and began escorting him while gripping his arm tightly. Plaintiff told Defendant Martin she was grabbing him too tightly and to loosen her grip. She did not say anything and gripped his arm tighter. Plaintiff stopped walking, looked Defendant Martin in the eyes, and said she is grabbing him too hard and to loosen up. They started arguing. Plaintiff was about to continue walking when Defendant Martin shoved him by the arm and pushed him against the wall. Defendant Martin said “don't think ‘cause she a old white lady cause she can still get in it and beat my ass [meaning she can fight].” (Doc. No. 17 at 5). Plaintiff, who was still pinned to the wall, started laughing. Defendant Martin pulled him off the wall, walked him to his cell, and called on her walkie talkie for the control booth to open Plaintiff's cell door. Defendant Martin was still gripping Plaintiff's arm tightly and Plaintiff was still laughing at her.

         When the cell door opened, Plaintiff “yanked” his arm from Defendant Martin's tight grasp. (Doc. No. 17 at 6). Defendant Martin let go of his arm and Plaintiff walked into his cell. When he was all the way into his cell towards the bed, still handcuffed, he turned around to see Defendant Martin standing outside the cell door fumbling with her pepper spray holster. She pointed the pepper spray can at Plaintiff so he turned his head and closed his eyes. He felt the chemicals hitting his hair, right jaw, and right ear. He did nothing aggressive towards Martin and felt his life was in danger from this excessive use of force that was unconstitutional and violated prison policy. No. other officers was present at the time of Defendant Martin's use of force. (Doc. No. 17 at 6).

         Plaintiff was partially blind and tried to remove the pepper spray from his face yet it spread to his eyes. Plaintiff rushed towards Martin outside the cell and punched her face. She tumbled backwards and fell, then Plaintiff jumped on top of her and punched her a few more times. A Code- 4 was called on the intercom. Plaintiff got up off Defendant Martin and backed into his cell to await the first responder officers. Plaintiff told the officers that Defendant Martin pepper sprayed him for no reason and that he acted in self-defense to prevent further harm because he felt his life was in danger. Plaintiff felt officers piling on top of him to bring him down to the floor. They cuffed and shackled him then roughly snatched him off the floor to escort him to lockup in E-unit for detox in the showers. Defendant Martin denied Plaintiff's version of events so he asked to look at the surveillance video footage. Defendant has denied Plaintiff's version of events so he has asked for an investigation and review of the video footage.

         Petitioner was having a hard time breathing because of asthma and had a “slight” reaction due to the pepper spray which “almost” caused an asthma attack. (Doc. No. 17 at 8). The spray caused facial swelling and a nurse checkup that came back with no positive vital or blood pressure signs.

         Plaintiff seeks Defendant Martin's permanent reassignment to another prison, damages, costs and fees, and discovery including video camera surveillance footage of the incident.

         (2) Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 43)

         Defendant Martin argues that summary judgment should be granted in her favor because she did not use excessive force on Plaintiff or otherwise violate his constitutional rights or other rights under federal or state law, and that she should be granted qualified immunity.

         With regards to excessive force, Defendant Martin argues that the only issue before the Court is the use of pepper spray. Plaintiff claims he did not present a threat to Defendant Martin or act aggressively towards her, and that he feared for his life. The record demonstrates that Defendant used appropriate and reasonable measures of force to prevent imminent assault. The video shows that Plaintiff's version of events is not reliable. He has presented no credible evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor and, therefore, there are no genuine issues as to any material fact and Defendant should be granted judgment as a matter of law.

         Defendant Martin argues that she is entitled to qualified immunity because the undisputed evidence demonstrates that he conduct was objectively reasonable in light of the circumstances and did not clearly violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Defendant Martin only applied pepper spray because Plaintiff posed a significant risk to her safety, she did not sue any more force than was necessary to prevent the attack.

         (3) Plaintiff's Responses (Doc. Nos. 75, 76, 78)

         Petitioner contends that summary judgment should be denied because there are disputed issues of material fact and that Defendant Martin is not entitled to qualified immunity.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant Martin used excessive force on him twice before he assaulted her and that Defendant Martin's failure to abide by her training and DPS policies, i.e., by escorting Plaintiff alone and failing to call for backup, placed Plaintiff at an increased risk of harm from Defendant Martin. Plaintiff claims that DPS supervisors, including investigating officer Captain Rodney Riles, sided with Defendant Martin, protected her even though she was wrong, and ignored Plaintiff's rights. He denies Defendant Martin's claim that he told her that he was refusing to go back to his cell. The videotape lacks sound so it does not conclusively prove Plaintiff's or Martin's version of events. The video shows that Martin pushed Plaintiff against the wall and pepper sprayed him before Plaintiff assaulted her. Had Martin truly felt threatened, she would have radioed for assistance and, instead of pepper spraying him, she could have closed him inside his cell. Plaintiff further claims that he never gave Defendant Martin a reason to use force on him, that her intention was to harm him, and that she could have prevented the whole incident by calling for help. Plaintiff admits he struck Martin repeatedly after she sprayed him which was in self-defense after she used excessive force on him twice. (Doc. No. 78 at 10).

         Plaintiff further claims that he stated that he sustained injuries including difficulty breathing, asthma attack, swelling of the face and eye and that pictures show signs of excessive force. (Doc. No. 78 at 7).

         (4) Evidence[1]

         (A) Affidavit of Pamela Martin (Doc. No. 68-1)

         Defendant Martin states that she was a Correctional Officer at Marion C.I. at the relevant time. On October 6, 2017, she retrieved Plaintiff from recreation for the purpose of escorting him back to his assigned cell. She cuffed him in front of his body because he had a “490, ” which is a medical note indicating that he needed to be cuffed in front. (Doc. No. 68-1 at 1). During the escort, Plaintiff said he was not going back to his cell and jerked away from Martin's hold. Martin instructed Plaintiff to stop jerking away from him and said that his recreational time was over and he needed to lock down, i.e., be secured in his assigned cell. As the escort continued, Plaintiff again stated that he was not going to lock down and that he wanted more recreation time. Martin again responded that his recreational time was over and he needed to lock down. Plaintiff then attempted to jerk away from Martin so she placed him against the flat surface of the wall to gain control over him and ensure compliance. Plaintiff used profanity towards Martin and told her to let go of his arm. By this time, they were relatively close to Plaintiff's cell. The cell door was open and Martin instructed Plaintiff to calm down and enter the cell. Plaintiff then entered the cell but then suddenly turned around towards Martin and threatened to harm her. At that moment, Martin “felt that a physical assault was imminent, so [she] pulled [her] pepper spray and applied the spray toward [Plaintiff's] face in an effort to prevent he imminent assault.” (Doc. No. 68-1 at 2). The pepper spray was not effective and Plaintiff rushed toward her and hit her with both of his fists, knocking her backwards to the ground.” (Doc. No. 68-1 at 2). Plaintiff continued to strike her with his cuffs on her face, head, left arm, upper chest, and ribs. Defendant Martin managed to grab her radio and called a Code 4 which indicates an assault on staff. At that moment, Plaintiff backed off of her and went back into his cell. Another correctional officer placed Plaintiff on the ground and Defendant Martin assisted in securing him. At no time during this encounter did Defendant Martin use profanity or otherwise act unprofessionally toward Plaintiff. Defendant Martin “used pepper spray on Inmate-Adkins because he was exhibiting violent and aggressive behavior and was threatening to harm [her].” (Doc. No. 68-1 at 3 at ¶ 26).

         During the time when Defendant Martin was employed at DPS, standard procedure was to cuff inmates with their arms behind them so that there is “relatively limited mobility in that they are not effectively able to swing their arms, hands, and cuffs.” (Doc. No. 68-1 at 3). “However, an inmate cuffed with hands in the front has more mobility in that they can generally swing their arms, hands, and cuffs” and thus “presents more of a risk than one who is cuffed in back.” (Doc. No. 68-1 at 3). Defendant Martin recognized during this incident that Plaintiff posed a greater risk of causing her harm because he was cuffed in front. (Doc. No. 68-1 at 4).

         “[T]he safest way, and thus the best practice, to escort an inmate into a cell is for the inmate to enter the cell face forward and remain facing forward until the cell door is fully secured.” (Doc. No. 68-1 at 4). After the door is secured, the inmate is instructed to place their hands through the slot so restraints can be removed. “[W]hen an inmate turns around and toward an officer before the door is secured, there is a greater risk that the inmate could assault staff. This is particularly true when an inmate is cuffed in the front.” (Doc. No. 68-1 at 4 at ¶ 34-35). “Accordingly, when ...

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