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Wright v. Grant

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division

June 18, 2019

Timothy L. Wright, Plaintiff,
v.
Lieutenant Alfred Grant, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY M. CAIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Timothy L. Wright (“Wright”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a claim of excessive force against Defendant Lieutenant Alfred Grant. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 75), and Wright filed a response opposing the motion (ECF No. 80). On April 9, 2019, Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending that the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 75) be granted. (ECF No. 83).[1] Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Report. (ECF No. 85).

         The Report has no presumptive weight and the responsibility to make a final determination in this matter remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). In the absence of objections, this court is not required to provide an explanation for adopting the Report. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Rather, “in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note). Furthermore, failure to file specific written objections to the Report results in a party's waiver of the right to appeal the district court's judgment based upon that recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985); Wright v. Collins, 766 F.2d 841 (4th Cir. 1985); United States v. Schronce, 727 F.2d 91 (4th Cir. 1984).

         I. Facts

         This action stems from incidents that occurred on November 22, 2016. On that day, Wright was housed in the restricted housing unit (“RHU”) at Lieber Correctional Institution where he shared a cell with Jonathan Arnold (“Arnold”). (ECF No. 1 at 3-4). It is undisputed that Defendants and several other officers deployed MK-4 chemical munitions into their cell. (ECF Nos. 1 at 4; 75-1 at 2). However, Wright and Defendant's accounts of what lead up to the use of the chemical munitions and what happened afterwards are quite different.

         Wright contends that Defendant approached Wright and Arnold's cell door and asked which one of them had thrown urine on Maintenance Supervisor Crouch. (ECF No. 1 at 4). Wright alleges that Arnold admitted to Defendant that he had thrown the urine at Officer Couch, and that Defendant told them that they would not be getting a haircut or shave. (ECF Nos. 1 at 4; 85 at 2). Wright contends that he asked Defendant why he was being punished when Arnold had admitted to throwing the urine, and Wright had nothing to do with it. (ECF Nos. 1 at 4; 80 at 6; 85 at 2). Wright alleges that Arnold asked Defendant to get a supervisor, and Defendant refused. (ECF Nos. 1 at 4; 85 at 2). Wright alleges that he stepped away from the cell door and Arnold began speaking with Defendant, and, without any demands, directives, or warnings, Defendant sprayed 77 grams of chemical munitions at point blank range into the cell. (ECF Nos. 1 at 4; 85 at 3) He states that he put his face into the toilet trying to wash the gas off his face and out of his eyes. (ECF Nos. 1 at 5; 85 at 3). Plaintiff contends that he was in no condition after being maced to help Arnold. He alleges that Defendant then tried to close the door flap, but when he could not, he left the wing. (ECF Nos. 1 at 5; 85 at 3).

         Wright alleges when Defendant returned twenty minutes later, Defendant and other officers began spraying chemical munitions into Wright's cell through the flap and under the door. Id. Wright states that he got inside his mattress in an effort to escape the gas. Id. An hour later, Wright alleges that Captain Jordan Williams called him by name from the cell door and spoke with him. Id. Being unable to resolve any issues, Williams left and returned about ten minutes later with Warden Joseph McFadden. Id. Warden McFadden took Wright and Arnold to a holding cell and spoke with them. (ECF Nos. 1 at 5; 85 at 4). Warden McFadden then told Defendant to take Wright and Arnold back to their cell and give them cleaning supplies. (ECF Nos. 1 at 6; 85 at 4). Wright alleges that their cell had been stripped while they had been talking with the Warden and, that once Wright and Arnold were back in their cell, Defendant sprayed them again with gas while they were handcuffed. Id. Wright contends that Defendant then turned off the water to his cell. Id. Wright alleges that he has suffered injuries to his right eye, psychological trauma, and mental anguish. (ECF No. 1 at 6).

         Defendant contends that four separate incidents occurred on November 22, 2016: (1) the early morning macing incident which Wright refers to in his compliant; (2) an incident at approximately 10:30 a.m. where Wright and/or Arnold threw urine (referred to as “dashing”) on Maintenance Supervisor Crouch; (3) an incident at approximately 3:00 p.m. much like the early morning incident where Wright and Arnold barricaded their cell door and, after refusing to follow directives, were maced; and (4) an incident which led to a charge of threatening to inflict harm based upon a Request to Staff form sent from Wright a few days earlier which Warden McFadden received at approximately 4:00 p.m. (ECF No. 75-1 at 4-5). Defendant acknowledges that Wright alleges that the dashing incident occurred first, but Defendant argues that “the sequence of these events is not material to the summary judgment determination as [his use of] force was justified either way.” Id.

         Crouch's incident report, the disciplinary report, and hearing record state that the dashing incident occurred at 10:30 a.m. on November 22, 2016. (ECF Nos. 75-9; 75-10). Officer Warren Streety's Incident Report for the early morning incident states it occurred at approximately 8:15 a.m. on November 22, 2016, and that he used 23 grams of mace. (ECF Nos. 75-7). Defendants' incident report states this incident occurred at approximately 7:20 a.m. on November 22, 2016, and that he used 55 grams of mace. (ECF No. 75-6). Officer Cline Williams's incident report states that a gassing incident occurred at 3:00 p.m. on November 22, 2016, and that he used 43 grams of mace. (ECF No. 75-11). Further, Williams' incident report states that Defendant and Officers Silva, Streety, Rockefeller, and Johnson were all involved in this afternoon incident. Id. However, there are no incident reports in the record from these other officers regarding an incident that afternoon.

         In regard to the early morning incident, Defendant alleges that Wright and Arnold were using a sheet to keep the window flap on their cell door open, which Defendant states must be kept closed to ensure the safety of the RHU officers. (ECF No. 75-1 at 2). Defendant contends that Wright and Arnold failed to comply with directives to remove the sheet from the window, and they were pushing and hitting Officer Rockefeller's riot shield. Id. Therefore, Defendant states that he administered a burst of MK-4 chemical munitions into the cell. Id. at 3. He alleges that he administered a second burst because Wright and Arnold still refused to follow directives and pushed on the riot shield. Id. Defendant contends that, because Wright and Arnold continued to push on the riot shield and refused to remove the sheet, Officer Streety administered a third burst of the MK-4 chemical munitions. Id. Officer Streety was eventually able to removed he sheet and close the flap. Id. Defendant then states that a nurse assessed Wright and Arnold and observed both inmates walking and talking and not showing any signs of respiratory distress. Id. Defendant alleges Wright and Arnold had access to water in their cell. Id.

         As set forth in the Report, Defendant has filed two videos depicting some of the early morning events:

The first video, Exhibit S-Video 1, is seven minutes and eleven seconds long, and it depicts the following:
Defendant appears standing in front of the camera. He identifies himself as Lt. Alfred Grant, of the R.H.U. Unit. He states that it is November 22, 2016, at 8:05 am. He is wearing a helmet with a face guard that is not covering his face. He is also wearing a black uniform with “SCDC” written across a protective vest. He then states that Plaintiff and Inmate Jonathan Arnold have refused to close their flaps because they have been “barricaded” or “tied” off. He states that he and his team are going to secure the flaps and that he will give the inmates one directive to un-barricade the flap, and he and his fellow officers will then proceed to close the flap. Defendant and Officers Streety, Silva, and Rockefeller, see ECF No.75-4 at 1, ¶ 4, then walk to Plaintiff's cell.
Once they arrive at the cell, Defendant twice asks the inmates, in a normal volume and tone, to “unbarricade the flaps for me.” The inmates do not comply with Defendant's directive. Almost immediately another officer says “gas' em, gas' em, gas' em.” The ...

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