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Hammonds v. Walsh

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 10, 2014

RICHARD ALLEN HAMMONDS, Plaintiff,
v.
JEROME WALSH, et. al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM[1]

MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.

Richard Allen Hammonds, the plaintiff in this matter, is an inmate at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Frackville ("SCI-Frackville"). On January 26, 2011, Mr. Hammonds alleges that various corrections officers taunted him while he was in his cell in another SCI located in Dallas, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Dallas"). One of those officers then opened his cell door, Mr. Hammonds sprinted out and attacked a corrections officer. He was eventually restrained through the use of handcuffs and a spit mask. While he was being subdued and just after he was brought under control, he claims he was severely beaten by several of the officers in the receiving area of his cell block. He further alleges that various defendants destroyed video tapes of this incident, but has not supplied any evidence that they existed or were in the care, custody, or control of the individual defendants. The plaintiff moved for spoliation sanctions and Judge Schwab denied that motion. The plaintiff now appeals that order.

After the altercation, Mr. Hammonds further claims that Lieutenant Victor Mirarchi ordered various corrections officers to poison him while he was at SCI-Frackville. These officers placed a substance in his food that he has not, to date, identified. However, this alleged poisoning caused him severe pain in his abdomen and other parts of his body. The plaintiff has not produced sufficient evidence to link Lieutenant Mirarchi to this supposed poisoning. Lieutenant Mirarchi has moved for summary judgement and Judge Schwab issued a report recommending that motion be granted.

For the reasons discussed below, the court will DENY the plaintiff's appeal of Judge Schwab's order on the spoliation sanctions, ADOPT IN FULL her report and recommendation on the issue of summary judgment, and GRANT Lieutenant Mirarchi's motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Presently before the court are a report and recommendation from Judge Schwab, (Doc. 133), and the plaintiff's appeal of Judge Schwab's order denying his motion for sanctions. (Doc. 121, 132, 134). Judge Schwab's report recommends that defendant Victor Mirarchi's motion for summary judgement, (Doc. 125), be granted. The plaintiff failed to filed a brief in opposition to Defendant Mirarchi's motion and did not file an objection to the report and recommendations. As noted above and for the reasons discussed below, the motion for summary judgement will be granted and the plaintiff's appeal will be denied.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This lawsuit stems from an ongoing conflict between the plaintiff and various staff members at SCI-Dallas and later at SCI-Frackville. On January 26, 2011, several of the defendants in this matter, corrections officers Headman, Harrison, and Sargent Buck, [2] allegedly withheld the plaintiff's breakfast and lunch. Around noon that same day, the plaintiff claims Sgt. Buck then opened his cell door. The plaintiff alleges he tried to close it, but was unable to do so. Frustrated by the withholding of food and various other provocations during the morning, the plaintiff then rushed from his cell and attacked Defendant Headman. Defendant Harrison saw this happen and rushed to assist. (Doc. 16, p. 3).

The officers were able to subdue the plaintiff and forced him to the ground. The plaintiff claims that Harrison punched him in the head several times while Headman placed him in handcuffs. Sgt. Buck saw this happen and noticed that the plaintiff was bleeding. He placed a spit mask on the plaintiff's face, but the plaintiff claims he did so in a forceful manner that choked him. Officers then restrained him further with additional arm and leg shackles. He was then moved to the Restricted Housing Unit's "dayroom" where he claims he was kicked, punched, spit on, and taunted for several minutes. (Doc. 16, p. 4).

After he was taken from the dayroom, officers escorted him down to the medical department to be examined. As this was happening, the plaintiff alleges that a corrections officer and former defendant, who was dismissed from this matter two years ago, video taped him with a handheld camera while he was escorted to the medical area. The doctor then took pictures of his injuries. He was then placed in a psychiatric observation cell (POC) for a period of time. (Doc. 16, p. 4). The plaintiff has been provided with four videos from the incident, including the video from the handheld camera noted above, but no video from the dayroom has been produced. (Doc. 122, 123, 124). The plaintiff now avers that the dayroom where he was taken after being restrained was or should have been recorded at all times per a purported Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) policy. He alleges that Sgt. Buck was required to maintain those video tapes and ensure they were preserved as evidence of this incident. In support, he has provided the court with a hand-written copy of a supposed DOC policy entitled DC-ADM 6.5.1 ยง(f). The plaintiff has also submitted an alleged copy of a Pennsylvania DOC policy requiring that photographs be taken of a prisoner after a use of force incident. (Doc. 113, Exh. A).

In response, the defendants have provided the court with department of corrections materials noting that when such incidents occur, the facilities security office compiles a report and preserves the relevant evidence for seven years. (Doc. 116, Att. 1). These policies, however, do not mention the dayroom specifically. The defendants further provided the court with a declaration from Keith Starynski, a lieutenant with in the SCI-Dallas security office. This declaration states that the RHU dayroom camera is only operating during inmate intake into the RHU. Therefore, it was not recording when the plaintiff was taken into that room. (Doc. 111, Att. 1). He also states that the video taken inside the plaintiff's POC was purged from the system approximately 28-32 days after the incident as per operating procedures. (Id.).

Subsequently, the plaintiff was moved to SCI-Frackville in February 2011. During his 21 months there, he alleges that Lt. Mirarchi ordered Defendants Wiedow, Kalce, and Sgt. Long to poison his food. (Doc. 16, p. 5). The plaintiff requested a kosher meal while he was at Frackville, but claims prison officials never gave him one. He also stated that his tray would be on the top of the food cart, while the others would be stacked in the cart itself. (Doc. 127, Att. 1). The plaintiff also alleges that he spoke with another corrections officer who told him that Lt. Mirarchi had it out for him. (Id.). The plaintiff has also submitted three affidavits from fellow prisoners. In sum, one alleges he has experienced the symptoms stemming from food poisoning, (Doc. 127, Att. 4, p. 2), while two others note general circumstances where they saw Lt. Mirarchi warn the defendant not to act like he did at SCI-Dallas. (Id., p. 3-4).

III. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiff filed his supplemental amended complaint in November 2011 alleging various causes of action, including the claims for excessive force and food poisoning discussed above. (Doc. 16). He filed a motion for spoilation sanctions and brief in support regarding the dayroom and POC videos on September 25, 2013. (Doc. 121, 122). The defendants filed a joint brief in opposition on October 15, 2013, (Doc. 123), and the plaintiff filed his reply brief shortly thereafter, (Doc. 124). Judge Schwab issued an order ...


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