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Wright v. McFadden

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

June 19, 2019

Timothy Lee Wright, Plaintiff,
Warden Joseph McFadden, Lieutenant Karl Von Mutius, Lieutenant Joseph Bass, Defendants.


          Timothy M. Cain, United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff, Timothy Lee Wright (“Wright”), proceeding pro se, brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendants, Warden Joseph McFadden (“McFadden”), Lieutenant Karl Von Mutius (“Von Mutius”), and Lieutenant Joseph Bass (“Bass”) (collectively “Defendants”), alleging that they violated his constitutional rights. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 62), and Wright filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 67).

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and District of South Carolina Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), this case was referred to a magistrate judge for all pre-trial proceedings. This matter is now before this court on the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that the court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment.[1](ECF No. 70). The magistrate judge alerted Wright of his right to file objections to the Report. (ECF No. 70-1). Wright filed timely objections (ECF No. 73), and this case is now ripe for review.

         I. Facts

         This action stems from incidents that occurred on November 1, 2016. Wright alleges that when Defendant Bass came to his cell to deliver lunch, his cell mate, Jonathan Arnold (“Arnold”), went to the food flap and told Defendant Bass that he had not received his insulin shot for that day. (ECF No. 1 at 4). Wright alleges that Defendant Bass stated that he did not have any control over medical and threatened to spray gas on Arnold if he did not move away from the food flap. Id. Wright asserts that at that time, he came down from his bunk and told Defendant Bass that two people lived in that cell and that Wright had done nothing to deserve to be gassed. Id. According to Wright, Defendant Bass left their cell, and when he came back, he threatened to gas Arnold again. Id. Wright alleges that this threat was not preceded by any directives or warnings. Id. Following this threat, Defendant Bass allegedly sprayed gas[2] into Wright and Arnold's cell. Id. After the first spray, Wright states that he climbed inside of his mattress to take cover and that, after a few minutes, he heard a “long[, ] long burst of gas sprayed into his cell.” Id. at 5. When the long burst was sprayed, Wright says he heard Defendant Von Mutius tell another officer to go get a gun. Id. At that time, Wright decided to come out from his mattress and was taken by the officers. Id.

         Wright alleges that following the spraying, he was not allowed to shower. Id. at 5-6. He further states that his room was stripped, and he was left with nothing to clean the gas off the floor, walls, or himself. Id. at 5. He contends that his water was turned off due to him being placed on seventy-two hours of “control cell” conditions. Id. Wright claims that Warden McFadden gave the order that he and Arnold be placed on control cell. Id. at 5-6. As a result of these events, Wright says he suffered burning, pain, and the inability to breath along with mental anguish and psychological trauma. Id. at 6.

         On the other hand, Defendants claim that Bass and Von Mutius only sprayed gas into Wright's cell after Bass was physically assaulted by both Wright and Arnold. (ECF No. 62-1 at 2). Defendants assert that Arnold reached through the food service window of his cell and attempted to grab Defendant Bass by the vest, and that when Bass tried to close the window, Arnold blocked the window with his arm. Id. Defendants allege that Wright then approached the window with an unknown substance in his hand. Id. Defendants state that it was at that time that Bass sprayed the first burst of chemical munitions through the window, and that despite the spray, Wright was still able to throw the unknown substance on Bass. Id. Defendants assert that Bass continued to try to close the window, but Wright and Arnold pushed a broken broom handle through the window, which struck Bass on the hand. Id. at 3. In response, Defendant Bass sprayed a second burst of chemical munitions. Id. Defendants claim that Officer Cline came to assist Defendant Bass in attempting to secure the window, but they were unsuccessful. Id. Wright and Arnold had allegedly pushed various items, including a sheet, into the window so that it could not be closed. Id. The officers called for backup, and Defendant Bass began videotaping the incident once backup arrived. Id.

         Defendants state that Lieutenant Grant then repeatedly directed Arnold and Wright to remove the items from the window. Id. at 4. Defendant Von Mutius then warns Wright and Arnold that he is going to give one more directive to remove things from the cell, which he did. Id. When Wright and Arnold did not respond, Defendant Von Mutius sprayed a different, more concentrated chemical spray[3] into the cell. Id. Defendant Von Mutius then stated that the next step would be to use a thirty-seven millimeter nonlethal weapon. Id. At that time, Wright and Arnold complied with the orders and were removed from the cell. Id.

         A registered nurse examined Arnold and Wright and stated that they were not in respiratory distress and were okay to go back to the cell. Id. at 4, 12. Arnold and Wright were then strip-searched, and Wright was provided a new jumpsuit. Id. at 4. Defendants state that while Arnold and Wright were being searched, their cell was being stripped and cleaned.[4] Id. at 4-5. Defendants agree that Wright and Arnold were placed on “control cell” following the incident, but they argue that the water was not turned off in the cell. Id. at 5.

         As noted in the Report, Defendants have filed two videos depicting some of the events. The first video, Exhibit K-Video 1, is thirty-seven minutes and fifty-five seconds long, and it depicts the following. At the start of the video, an officer can be seen wearing a face shield and gloves and holding the flap on the door closed with his hands. There is some white material that is preventing the flap from closing. No. inmates can be seen on the screen. The officer (later identified as Defendant Bass) turns around and speaks to someone behind the camera (later identified as Lieutenant Grant (“Grant”)) and says “I can't believe he assaulted me.” Grant then asks “Who assaulted you?” Bass answers, “Both of them. . . . I did spray gas in there.” Grant then enters the camera frame. Grant yells, “Timothy, why'd you assault this man, ” to which one of the inmates on the other side of the door yells an unintelligible response. Grant continues to ask Wright why he assaulted the officer, but it is unclear what Wright's answer was to these questions.

         Grant asks Bass what happened. Bass says “I tried to feed them. He reached out and grabbed my chest. I tried to close the door, and he caught me with something. And then he had a broom handle; we snatched it out. Then he won't let me close the flap.”

         Grant and another unidentified officer can be seen holding the flap closed while Grant continues to try to talk with the inmates inside. The officers can be heard coughing throughout the encounter. At three minutes and nineteen seconds into the video, Bass's hand becomes visible on the screen, and it is clearly bleeding.

         At three minutes and twenty-seven seconds into the video, Grant orders Wright to “pull that stuff out the flap.” Over the span of the next three minutes, Grant makes the same directive ten more times. At seven minutes and sixteen seconds into the video, Grant then asks for help to be sent to the cell.

         Over the next seven minutes, Grant tells Wright five more times to remove the material from the flap. At around fourteen minutes into the video, one of the inmates behind the door states that he needs to wash the gas off of him.

         At fifteen minutes and eleven seconds into the video, Grant again orders Wright to move the materials from the flap. Wright responds to “stop playing with my legal work.” Grant states he is not “playing with nothing” and says he gave Wright “all the official paper work” that he needs to complete. For the next several minutes, Grant and an unidentified officer struggle to hold the flap closed. There is no camera view of who or what the officers are struggling against.

         At twenty-three minutes and fifty-eight seconds into the video, Defendant Von Mutius comes on the screen, dressed in a protective vest, helmet, and face mask. He states that inmates Arnold and Wright have assaulted a staff member and have barricaded their window. He states that the officers are going to try to secure the window, and that he is going to give one more directive and ...

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