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Sylvia v. Meeks

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 20, 2014

DERRICK M. SYLVIA, Petitioner,
v.
BOBBY L. MEEKS, Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER[1]

SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Petitioner, Derrick M. Sylvia, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. He is challenging the disciplinary action taken against him when he was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI") McKean. As relief, he seeks an order from this Court directing that his incident report be expunged so that he may be restored the good time credit he lost as a sanction.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the petition.

I.

A. Relevant Factual Background

On September 22, 2011, Petitioner, who was housed in Cell No. 121 with another inmate named Dontez Hudson, was charged with violating prohibited act Code 104, Possession, Manufacture or Introduction of a Weapon. [Resp's Ex. 1, Att. C, ECF No. 10-4 at 2]. Correctional Officer A. McKinney reported:

On 9-22-2011, at 10:35 pm, I received a drop note stating inmates in cell #121 had a homemade weapon in their cell. At 10:45pm while searching cell 121 unit CA a homemade weapon was discovered. The homemade weapon was a toothbrush filed down to a sharp point at one end. The weapon also had tape at the bottom used for a handle. The homemade weapon was 7 inches in length. The weapon was recovered under the top bunk mattress.

[Id.]

Petitioner was served with the Incident Report that same day. He told the investigating officer:

he did not know anything about a weapon in the cell. He stated that the weapon was found on the top bunk and he lives on the bottom bunk. He indicated that he did not know anything about his cellie. However, he believes the weapon was planted in the cell. He indicated he did several years in the state system and 2 years in the federal system and he has never been in trouble.

[Id.][2] At the conclusion of the interview, the investigating officer determined that the Incident Report was "warranted and justified" and recommended that the case proceed to the next phase of the disciplinary process, which in this case was a hearing before the Discipline Hearing Officer ("DHO").

On October 15, 2011, Petitioner was provided with a copy of the form entitled "Inmate Rights at Discipline Hearing." It advised him of his right "to call witnesses (or present written statements of unavailable witnesses) and to present documentary evidence in [his] behalf, provided institutional safety would not be jeopardized[.]" [Resp's Ex. 1, Att. D, ECF No. 10-5 at 2 (emphasis added)]. Petitioner also received a copy of the form entitled "Notice of Hearing Before the (DHO), " which enabled him to elect to have a staff representative present at the hearing and to call witnesses. On that form, Petitioner elected not to have a staff representative present or to call any witnesses. [Resp's Ex. 1, Att. E, ECF No. 10-6 at 2].

The DHO conducted the hearing on October 31, 2011. [Resp's Ex. 1, Att. G, ECF No. 10-8 at 2-4]. Petitioner denied the charges in the Incident Report and stated "that the weapon in question was not his and somebody set him up. He stated he has no idea how the weapon got into his cell." [Id. at 2]. Petitioner did not present any documentary evidence. [Id.]

The DHO considered the following evidence: (1) the shank itself; (2) a copy of the drop note recovered by the reporting officer; and, (3) a memorandum dated September 22, 2011, drafted by the correctional officer that located the shank when conducting a search of Petitioner's cell. [Id. at 3. See also Resp's Ex. 1, Att. H, ECF No. 10-9 at 2; Resp's Ex. 1, Att. I, ECF No. 10-10 at 2]. He determined that Petitioner committed the prohibited act of Possession, Manufacture or Introduction of a Weapon. [Id. at 4]. The DHO "gave little weight to [Petitioner's] defense that [he] was set up or that the weapon belonged to [his] cell-mate." [Id.] The DHO further explained that under the BOP's "constructive possession" policy, Petitioner was responsible for contraband found in his cell. That policy is set forth in Program Statement 5270.09, App. C at 40, § 4, and it mandates that it is an inmate's responsibility to keep his areas free of contraband. The DHO stated that he:

gave greater weight to the written statement of Officer McKinney in which he documents while searching your assigned cell, he discovered a homemade weapon under the upper mattress. The area under the mattresses is considered a common area of the cell as all occupants of the cell would have access to that area. Your assigned cell is an area that is under your control. You are responsible to keep all areas ...

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