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Chisler v. Johnston

March 29, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Charles Chisler ("Plaintiff") filed the instant civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sergeant ("Sgt.") Edward P. Johnston ("Johnston"), Lieutenant ("Lt.") Timothy M. Wentroble ("Wentroble"), Sgt. Clayton Stoner ("Stoner"), Corrections Officer ("CO") Erik Keller ("Keller")(collectively "Training Defendants"), Lt. Sutton ("Sutton"), Lt. Donald Hockenberry ("Hockenberry"), Sgt. Daniel J. Lynch, Jr. ("Lynch"), Sgt. Joseph Palanchar ("Palanchar"), (collectively "Supervisory Defendants"), and John or Jane Doe(s). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution during a training exercise on October 7, 2007, in which the Training Defendants hog-tied Plaintiff. Presently before the Court are Motions to Dismiss filed by the Training Defendants (Docket Nos. [28], [39], [42]) and the Supervisory Defendants (Docket No. [35]).*fn1 Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, and for the following reasons, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are DENIED.

II. Factual Background

Since this matter comes before the Court on motions to dismiss, the allegations contained in the First Amended Complaint are assumed to be true. Hemi Group, LLC v. City of New York, -- U.S. --, 130 S.Ct. 983, 986-87 (2010)(citing Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics and Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993)).

A. The Incident of October 7, 2007

On July 9, 2007, Plaintiff began his employment as a Corrections Officer ("CO") at the State Correctional Institute Fayette ("SCI-Fayette").*fn2 (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 18). Prior to working on site at SCI-Fayette, Plaintiff received a two-week orientation and five weeks of training. (Id. at ¶ 19). During his first year of employment, Plaintiff was to receive regular training from sergeants and lieutenants assigned to training duties. (Id. at ¶ 2). All CO's are Correction Officer Trainees ("COT's") during this training period. (Id. at ¶ 19). COT's are provided with a "training book" which contains the objectives that the COT must review and accomplish during his or her training. (Id. at ¶ 20). The Training Sergeant for the day checks the COT's book to find objectives that have not been previously accomplished, reviews an objective with the COT, then signs off on that particular objective for the day with the COT. (Id.).

At SCI-Fayette, between two wings of prisoner cells, there is a room referred to as the "bubble," which contains the controls for the two adjacent wings. (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 23). On October 7, 2007, Plaintiff was assigned to D Block, A Pod, and Johnston was assigned as Plaintiff's Training Sergeant for that day. (Id. at ¶ 22-23). Johnston ordered Plaintiff into the bubble for his day's training. (Id. at ¶ 23). Plaintiff entered the bubble with Johnston, Wentroble, Stoner, and CO Mackzo to receive his training. (Id. at ¶ 24). Keller was already in the bubble when Plaintiff entered as he was on-duty. (Id.).

Once inside the bubble, Johnston ordered Plaintiff to remove his equipment, including his keys, radio, and Personal Arm Transmitter ("PAT"). (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 26). Plaintiff initially refused to remove his keys because it violated CO rules to do so and he believed this order was an attempt to discern whether he would follow that rule. (Id.). Johnston repeated the order, and Plaintiff again refused. (Id.). Using the authority of his position as Training Sergeant, Johnston told Plaintiff it was permissible to remove his equipment as it was for training purposes. (Id.). Only then did Plaintiff comply with the order. (Id.).

The Training Defendants ordered Plaintiff to handcuff himself, and he refused. (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 27). Keller called CO Rogers and asked him to tell Plaintiff whether he should cuff himself. (Id.). CO Rogers told Plaintiff that he should handcuff himself or he would be "choked out" as he had been during his training. (Id.). After he again refused to handcuff himself, the Training Defendants approached Plaintiff, at which time Plaintiff told them to stop. (Id. at ¶ 28). Keller handcuffed Plaintiff's left wrist and told him to handcuff the right one himself, which Plaintiff refused to do. (Id.). Stoner and Johnston grabbed Plaintiff's right arm and handcuffed his hands behind his back. (Id.). One or all of the Training Defendants hit Plaintiff on his right side and ordered him to the ground several times. (Id.).

Johnston, Wentroble, Stoner, and Keller also verbally abused Plaintiff. (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 28). After refusing to go to the ground, Stoner kicked Plaintiff and forced him to the ground. (Id. at ¶ 29). Plaintiff's legs were pulled out from under him and his feet were forced up to his hands behind his back. (Id.). The Training Defendants used an electrical extension cord to tie Plaintiff's hands to his feet behind his back, or to "hog-tie" him. (Id.). Plaintiff stopped resisting when it became difficult to breathe. (Id.). He felt as if he were suffocating. (Id.). Because hog-tying an individual can result in asphyxiation which may cause death, the Training Defendants applied deadly force to Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 30). Plaintiff was physically immobilized in this position and held down by Johnston, Wentroble and Stoner. (Id. at ¶ 31). Wentroble uncuffed Plaintiff's left wrist only, leaving Plaintiff to remove the other handcuff and leg restraints. (Id.). As the Training Defendants were leaving the bubble, Plaintiff claims they said to him "Chisler! This never happened today!" (Id.).

B. Plaintiff's Attempts to Report the Incident

Immediately following the incident, Plaintiff told Sgt. Braunlich*fn3 what had happened. (Id. at ¶ 32). According to Plaintiff, Sgt. Braunlich considered the incident "business as usual." (Id.). The Training Defendants told other CO's as well as inmates at SCI-Fayette what they had done to Plaintiff, which Plaintiff claims caused him to suffer embarrassment, humiliation and other mental trauma. (Id. at ¶ 33). On October 8, 2007 Plaintiff returned to work and informed Defendant Lynch about the incident, yet Lynch did not initiate an investigation. (Id. at ¶ 34). Also, CO Terry Childs asked Plaintiff if he had heard that in the past he, Childs, had been handcuffed and punched in the chest by CO Sheetz and Wentroble. (Id. at ¶ 35).

After being off from work on October 9 and 10, on October 11, 2007 Plaintiff again told Lynch about the incident, and Lynch allegedly informed Plaintiff that this conduct did not violate any SCI-Fayette policy and, therefore, there would be no investigation. (Id. at ¶ 36). On October 13, 2007 Plaintiff made yet another attempt to report the incident, but this time to both Palanchar and Lynch. (Id. at ¶ 37). This time, Palanchar and Lynch asked Plaintiff if he wanted to see "the boss" now or the following Monday. (Id.). Plaintiff said he wanted to go immediately and was taken to the muster room to speak to the "boss[es]," Sutton and Hockenberry. (Id.).

Plaintiff relayed the incident of October 7, 2007 to Lynch, Sutton and Hockenberry, who, in response, actively discouraged Plaintiff from reporting the incident. (Id. at ¶ 38). According to Plaintiff, Sutton knew Wentroble had prior disciplinary problems and wanted to "protect" him. (Id.). Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Sutton warned him that if he pursued the matter further, "he just f**ked his career," and that Sutton told him that he had worked at SCI-Fayette for twenty-three years and he was not throwing it away over this (Id. at ¶¶ 39-40). Hockenberry then asked Plaintiff if he had an attorney, at which time Plaintiff requested Union representation. (Id. at ¶ 40). Sutton and Hockenberry refused Plaintiff's request and told him that he might get "street" time over this. (Id.).

Sutton and Hockenberry left the muster room and Palanchar and Lynch reentered the room. Stoner, also in the room, suggested a cover story to explain Plaintiff's injuries while still permitting him to receive workers compensation benefits. (Id. at ¶ 42). He suggested that Plaintiff claim he received his injuries during a "trouble call" to dissipate an inmate dispute. (Id.). During the meeting, Wentroble phoned the muster room to tell Plaintiff to refrain from reporting the incident because he could not afford to get in any more trouble. (Id. at ¶ 44). Instead, Wentroble told Plaintiff to lie about his injuries, and he would ensure that Plaintiff received disability leave. (Id.). Lynch also told Plaintiff to omit from the incident report that he had been hog-tied. (Id. at ¶ 45). Lieutenant Jones then entered the ...

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