United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on Motion for Summary
Judgment by Defendants Riddle, Grindstaff, Harris, and Slater
[Doc. 33] and on Plaintiff's Motion for Copies [Doc. 42].
Plaintiff Ashton Fletcher Branch Harris
(“Plaintiff”), a North Carolina inmate currently
incarcerated at Alexander Correctional Institution in
Taylorsville, North Carolina, filed this action on June 26,
2018, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff named the
following individuals as Defendants in this matter: (1)
Cleveland F. Riddle, identified as a Lieutenant at Mountain
View Correctional Institution (“Mountain View”);
(2) Tommy Harris, identified as a correctional officer at
Mountain View; (3) FNU Grindstaff, identified as a Captain at
Mountain View; and (4) FNU Slater, identified as a
psychologist at Mountain View. [Doc. 1 at 2-3]. Plaintiff
alleges that, on April 19, 2018, Defendants used excessive
force against Plaintiff, failed to intervene in the use of
excessive, force, and subjected Plaintiff to cruel and
unusual punishment through his conditions of confinement, all
in violation of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights while
he was incarcerated at Mountain View. [Doc. 1]. Plaintiff
seeks compensatory and punitive damages. [Doc. 1 at 8]. The
Plaintiff's complaint survived initial review under 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). [Doc. 10].
9, 2019, Defendants filed the pending summary judgment
motion. [Doc. 33]. This Court entered an Order pursuant to
Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975),
granting Petitioner fourteen days to respond to the summary
judgment motion. [See Docs. 36, 40]. Plaintiff
timely filed his response to Defendants' motion.
[See Doc. 41]. On November 14, 2019, Plaintiff filed
a letter with the Court [Doc. 42], which the Court construes
as a motion for copies of all documents filed in the docket
in this matter and a request for a status update in this
Defendants' Summary Judgment Materials
support of the summary judgment motion, Defendants rely on
incident reports by various correctional officers and other
witnesses submitted following the incident, Plaintiff's
medical and mental health records, other prison records and
policies, and the affidavits of Tommy Buchanan, Robert Mask,
and Janet Ray and Defendants Grindstaff, Harris, Riddle and
Slater. [See Docs.35-1 through 35-7].
Defendants' forecast of evidence shows the following:
on or around April 15, 2018, Plaintiff began a hunger strike
to protest his lack of access to certain medications and
mental health care. [Doc. 35-5 at 20]. In addition to the
hunger strike, Plaintiff had engaged in self-injurious
behavior (“SIB”) and claimed that he was going to
harm himself. [Doc. 35-7 at ¶ 8: Slater Affidavit]. As a
result, Plaintiff was placed on SIB precautions by Dr. Nicole
Prior, a psychologist, on April 18, 2018. [Id. at
¶ 8; Id. at 9]. At this time, the Mental Health
standard operating procedures (“SOP”) were
employed in caring for the Plaintiff. [Id. at ¶
8]. Dr. Prior, in her note recommending SIB precautions,
[Plaintiff] appears to be[ ] trying to manipulate the system
and to gain treatment that he wants by claiming to be
suicidal. He has done this several time[s] while being housed
at [Alexander Correctional Institution] [i]n addition to
going on hunger strikes. He has poor coping skills and
difficulty with impulse control. Both he and another inmate
appear to be mimicking each other in hopes of achieving their
goal of being released from ICONN.
[Id. at 8].
next day, April 19, 2018, Plaintiff remained on SIB
precautions. [Id. at ¶ 9]. SIB precautions
require that a custody officer must continuously monitor the
inmate. To do so, the custody official must be able to see
the inmate. That is, the inmate's body cannot be entirely
covered. [Id.]. Under SIB precautions, an inmate
must be seen by a psychology staff member every 24 hours.
[Id. at ¶ 10]. Further, under Mental Health
SOP, an inmate placed on SIB precautions is provided a safety
blanket, safety smock, and safety mattress. All other
materials are to be removed unless authorized by a mental
health clinician. [Id. at 14].
Slater is a licensed psychology associate employed by the
North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) at
Mountain View. [Id. at ¶ 3]. Defendant Slater
has a bachelor's degree from Ohio University and a
master's degree in clinical psychology. [Id. at
¶ 4]. Defendant Slater has been employed with the NCDPS
as a psychologist for 19 years. [Id. at ¶ 5].
morning of April 19, 2018, at approximately 8:30 a.m.,
Defendant Slater went to the restricted housing unit (RHU)
where Plaintiff was being housed for a 24-hour SIB check.
[Id. at ¶ 11]. When Defendant Slater arrived at
the RHU that morning, she was informed that Plaintiff was
observed by custody staff covering his entire body with the
safety blanket. [Id. at ¶ 12; Id. at
7; Doc. 35-6 at ¶ 5(d): Riddle Affidavit]. Plaintiff had
been repeatedly told that he needed to uncover at least his
head so that he could be observed as “safe”
according to SIB precautions. [Doc. 35-7 at ¶ 12;
Id. at 7; see Doc. 35-6 at ¶ 5(d)].
Plaintiff refused to comply. [Id. at ¶ 12;
Id. at 7]. Defendant Slater approached
Plaintiff's cell with custodial staff and Plaintiff
refused to respond to Defendant Slater. Plaintiff kept
himself completely obscured. [Id. at ¶ 13;
Id. at 7; see Doc. 35-6 at ¶ 5(d)].
Thereafter, Defendant Slater instructed the custodial staff
to take way the safety blanket. Plaintiff complied, but then
used the safety smock in the same manner as he had used the
safety blanket. The smock was, therefore, also removed.
[Id. at ¶ 15; Id. at 7; Doc. 35-6 at
¶ 5(e)-(h)]. Next, Plaintiff used his safety mattress in
the same manner, preventing custodial staff from observing
him. The safety mattress, therefore, was also removed for
safety and security purposes for the proper observation of
Plaintiff. [Id. at ¶¶ 16, 17; Id.
at 7; Doc. 35-6 at ¶ 5(i)].
approximately 9:20 a.m., Defendant Riddle decided to move
Plaintiff from cell S-111 to S-109. [Doc. 35-6 at ¶
5(j)]. Plaintiff was given a pair of boxer shorts for the
transfer between these cells. [Id. at ¶ 5(1)].
At or around 12:00 p.m., Plaintiff refused an evaluation
related to his hunger strike by Physicians Assistant Jeffrey
Patane, including all interactions with mental health and
medical care providers, all health screenings, and all
medications. [Doc. 35-5 at 19].
approximately 1:00 p.m., a radio call advised correctional
staff that Plaintiff was repeatedly flushing the toilet in
his cell. [Doc. 35-3 at ¶¶ 4-6: Harris
Declaration]. At the time, Plaintiff was in cell S-109 and
Defendant Harris and Assistant Unit Manager Robert Mask were
in the prison intake area. They both went to Plaintiff's
cell. [Id. at ¶¶ 4-6; Doc. 35-4 at
¶¶ 5(a)-(b)]. When they arrived, Mask looked
through the window of the cell and saw that Plaintiff had his
head in the toilet and was flushing it repeatedly.
[Id. at ¶ 5(c)]. Mask knocked on
Plaintiff's window. Plaintiff responded by looking up and
then placing his head back into the toilet. [Id. at
¶ 5(d)]. Mask then instructed Defendant Harris to turn
off the water to Plaintiff's cell, which he did. [Doc.
35-3 at ¶¶ 4-6; Doc. 35-4 at ¶ 5(e)]. After
Plaintiff ceased flushing his own head in the toilet, he
began banging his head on the cell door, attempting to harm
himself. [Doc. 35-2 at ¶ 5(d); Doc. 35-4 at ¶
5(e)]. At this time, Plaintiff refused orders to stop banging
his head on the cell door and to submit to handcuffs.
[Id. at ¶ 5(e)-(f)]. Defendant Grindstaff
arrived and ordered the Plaintiff to submit to handcuffs or
Plaintiff would be pepper sprayed. [Id. at ¶
5(g); Doc. 35-4 at ¶ 5(f)]. Plaintiff then submitted to
handcuffs and was given a pair of boxer shorts to be escorted
to an intake holding cell where he would be placed in
four-point restraints for his own safety. [Id. at
¶ 5(h)-(i)]. The use of four-point restraints was
approved by Lieutenant Tommy Buchanan, who was the officer in
charge on the day of the incident. [Doc. 35-1 at 40; see
id. at ¶ 5: Buchanan Affidavit].
approximately 1:45 p.m., four-point restraints were applied
to Plaintiff. [Id. at 40]. Defendant Harris, while
other officers were restraining Plaintiff so that the
restraints could be applied, placed a safety helmet on
Plaintiff. Placement of a safety helmet is standard and
customary in this situation. [Doc. 35-3 at ¶ 10]. The
application of the restraints was without incident, other
than Plaintiff using profanity toward the staff, calling them
a bunch of “Hillbilly Mother Fuckers.” [Doc. 35-6
at ¶ 5(u)]. Plaintiff also told the prison staff they
were incompetent and tried to direct the staff on how to
apply the restraints. [Id. at ¶ 5(v)].
Harris had no other involvement in getting Plaintiff out of
cell S-109, in escorting Plaintiff to the intake cell, in
placing Plaintiff on the bed there, or in applying the
four-point restraints. [Doc. 35-3 at ¶¶ 7, 8, 9].
Specifically, Defendant Harris did not hit, punch, kick, or
use any other force on Plaintiff, nor did Defendant Harris
witness any other staff using any force on Plaintiff beyond
that which was necessary to escort him to the intake cell and
restrain him while the four-point restraints were applied.
[Id. at ¶ 12]. Further, any force used on
Plaintiff was necessary to achieve a correctional goal and
was not excessive. [Id. at ¶ 13; Doc. 35-4 at
Grindstaff was not present for the application of the
restraints, as there were several supervisors on site at the
time, including Lieutenant Buchanan, Assistant Unit Manager
Mask, Lieutenant Riddle, and Brett Bullis. [Doc. 35-2 at
¶ 5(j)]. Further, Defendant Grindstaff did not witness
any staff cursing at or smacking, punching, kneeing, or
choking Plaintiff. [Id. at ¶ 5(k)].
Janet Ray, RN, reported promptly to RHU to check
Plaintiff's restraints and to ensure Plaintiff was not in
distress. [Doc. 35-1 at 8; Doc. 35-5 at ¶ 5]. This is
standard and required procedure when four-point restraints
are used. [Doc. 35-5 at ¶ 5]. Nurse Ray reported that
Plaintiff had adequate capillary refill to his fingers, and
that she was able to get her fingers under the restraints on
Plaintiff's wrist and ankles. [Doc. 35-1 at 8; Doc. 35-5
at ¶ 6]. As such, Nurse Ray determined that the
four-point restraints were appropriately and safely applied.
[Doc. 35-5 at ¶ 6]. Nurse Ray was not informed that
there was a use-of-force incident nor did she notice any
injuries or marks on Plaintiff. [Id. at ¶ 7].
Further, Plaintiff did not complain to Nurse Ray about any
injuries at this time. [Id. at ¶ 7].
p.m., while he was in four-point restraints, Plaintiff was
seen by Staff Psychologist Rich Bruner to ensure Plaintiff
was calm and of limited danger to attending officers so that
Plaintiff could take his scheduled bathroom break. [Doc. 35-7
at 6]. At that time, Plaintiff's safety smock had been
returned and Plaintiff seemed to be returning to a calm,
lucid state. [Id. at ¶ 19]. Psychologist Bruner
noted that Plaintiff “reported recently ‘waking
up' to find himself [in] 4 point restraints. He states he
does not remember actions from this morning which led to his
current state.” [Id. at 6].
approximately 5:30 p.m., due to Plaintiff's improved
behavior, the four-point restraints were removed. Plaintiff
was placed in full mechanical restraints at this time. [Doc.
35-1 at 6; Id. at 37]. At 7:30 p.m., due to
continued improved behavior, Plaintiff's connecting chain
was removed. Then, at 9:30 p.m., Plaintiff's leg
restraints were removed. At 11:30 p.m., Plaintiff's waist
chain and block box were removed. Finally, on April 20, 2018,
at 1:00 a.m., Plaintiff's handcuffs were removed. [Doc.
35-1 at 6].
Slater saw Plaintiff the next morning, April 20, 2018, at
approximately 9:00 a.m. [Doc. 35-7 at ¶ 20]. Plaintiff
was in his cell, out of restraints, and had his safety apron,
blanket, and mattress. At this visit, Plaintiff stated to
Defendant Slater, “I really had a bad day
yesterday.” Plaintiff also apologized to Defendant
Slater “if I was rude.” [Id. at 5].
Plaintiff remained on SIB precautions until April 22, 2018.
[Id.; id. at ¶ 21]. Plaintiff did not
return to SIB precautions during the remainder of his
incarceration at Mountain View. [Id. at ¶ 21].
had several other medical and mental health encounters in the
days following the alleged incident. Plaintiff, however, did
not complain of or even mention the alleged use of ...