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Wright v. Guess

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

June 19, 2019

Timothy Lee Wright, Plaintiff,
Sergeant Travis Guess and Officer Joshua Silva, Defendants.


          Timothy M. Cain, United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff, Timothy Lee Wright (“Wright”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendants Sergeant Travis Guess (“Guess”) and Officer Joshua Silva (“Silva”) (collectively “Defendants”) alleging that they violated his constitutional rights. (ECF No. 1). Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 52), and Wright filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 57).

         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. 63). The magistrate judge alerted Wright of his right to file objections to the Report. Id. at 12. Wright filed timely objections (ECF No. 65), and this case is now ripe for review.

         I. Background

         Wright, an inmate with South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”), alleges that, on October 20, 2016, he was sleeping when Defendant Guess came to his cell at Lieber Correctional Institution (“LCI”) and told Wright's cellmate to pack up because he was moving cells. (ECF No. 1 at 7). Wright states that Officer Robinson then told him that he would not like who they were going to place in the cell with him and that it was someone the officers knew Wright was “beefing with.” Id. Wright claims that after learning the identity of his new cellmate, he asked to speak with the supervisor, and Officer Robinson said he would let the supervisor know. Id.

         Wright states that about an hour went by before Defendants Guess and Silva approached his cell and told him to come to the door. Id. Defendants Guess and Silva then allegedly asked Wright what the problem was between Wright and his new roommate (“Tate”). Id. While they were talking, Wright states that other officers began walking Tate towards the door. Id. Wright says Defendant Guess ordered that he turn around to get cuffed, and that he did so “without any problems or responses.” Id. at 8. However, once his back was turned, Wright states that Defendant Guess asked Wright what the problem was and then called Wright by his nickname. Id. Wright states that he attempted to turn back around to face Defendants, and Defendant Silva sprayed gas in Wright's face and on his upper body. Id. Wright states that he ran to the sink and tried to wash the gas off and that he yelled to Silva that he did not do anything to deserve to be gassed. Id. Wright states that while he was washing off the gas, Defendant Guess sprayed Wright with gas two more times. Id. Wright contends that the officers then slammed the door flap closed and left him inside for thirty minutes. Id. Wright claims that the Defendants then came back and asked if he was going to get cuffed. Id. Wright was handcuffed, and Tate was moved into the cell. Id. Wright alleges that within an hour, Tate attempted to commit suicide. Id.

         Wright contends that he was alone in his cell when the events occurred and that he committed no wrongdoing. (ECF No. 1-3 at 1). He states that he never assaulted an officer or another inmate on that date and did not refuse to obey a lawful direct order. Id. at 2.

         On the other hand, Defendants state that Wright was gassed because he presented an “officer safety” issue during the placement of a prisoner. (ECF No. 52-1 at 2). They state that the gas was used “in an attempt to restore order and discipline.” Id. Defendants state that they needed to handcuff Wright before they could open the door to place the new inmate in the cell. Id. Defendants contend that Wright did not want Tate in the cell because Wright claimed he would harm Tate. Id. Defendants state they directed Wright to come to the door to be handcuffed, but he refused, walked towards the back of his cell, grabbed a blanket, and covered his head “evidently anticipating that his non-compliance would lead to the use of chemical munitions.” Id. Defendants state that after Wright refused to obey orders, Defendant Silva sprayed a burst of MK-4 chemical munitions into the cell. Id. at 3. Defendants state that Wright was then told over ten more times to come to the door and get cuffed, but he refused. Id. Defendants allege that Wright was warned that chemical munitions would be used if he continued to refuse, but he still refused. Id. Defendant Guess sprayed a burst of MK-9 chemical munitions into the cell. Id. When Wright still refused to be cuffed, the officers left the cell, and Guess assembled a Force Cell Movement Team to assist. Id. When the team assembled outside of the cell, Wright complied and was handcuffed. Id. Tate was placed in the cell. Id. According to the Defendants, Wright refused medical treatment, but the nurse noted that Wright displayed no signs of respiratory distress and appeared to be in good shape. Id.

         As noted in the Report, Defendants filed two videos depicting some of the events. The first video, Exhibit K-Video 1, is six minutes and eighteen seconds long, and it depicts the following. At the start of the video, Wright can be seen standing at the door of the cell with the officers. The officers tell him to turn around. Wright then walks away backwards. At eleven seconds in, one of the officers says, “Come get cuffed.” A second later, Wright grabs a blanket from the top of his bunk and places it over his head. While Wright was still placing the blanket over his head, the officer again says, “come get cuffed sir.” One second later, one of the officers sprays a burst of chemical munitions into the cell. The officer then closed the flap to the cell.

         A minute later, the officers opened the flap and then immediately closed the flap. Through the closed flap, an officer tells Wright to turn around. Wright can be heard coughing through the door. The officer opens the flap and says, “Come get cuffed sir.” When Wright does not comply, the officer repeats his order. Wright walks away to the back of the cell.

         Over the next minute, the officers order Wright to come be cuffed five more times. Wright is continuously coughing through this minute. At three minutes and forty-one seconds into the video, one of the officers says, “Only one more directive.” However, no further directive is heard on the video before another spray of chemical munitions enters the cell ten seconds later.

         After the second spray, the officers close the flap. Coughing can be heard from both Wright and the officers. The officers open the flap a minute and a half later and ask Wright if he will come get cuffed now. Wright stays facing away from the camera with a sheet on his head. At that time, Defendant Guess faces the camera, identifies himself, and says he is going to get a team together to get Wright cuffed. (ECF No. 52-12); Exhibit K-Video 1.

         The second video is eight minutes and twenty seconds long, and depicts the following. At the beginning of the video, Defendant Guess introduces himself and explains that Wright has refused to get cuffed. He states that the officers had sprayed gas twice into the cell that morning and that he has now assembled a team. The officers introduce themselves, though much of the introductions are inaudible. There is a registered nurse on the team.

         The team reaches Wright's cell at one minute and fifty seconds into the video. At two minutes and twenty-eight seconds, Wright comes to the cell door with one hand shielding his eyes and one hand holding a white fabric over his mouth and nose. Wright complies with the officers' orders and is cuffed. Throughout this time, there is continuous coughing by both Wright and the officers. At three ...

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