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Commonwealth v. Black

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

January 13, 2015

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
DAVID J. BLACK, Appellee

Submitted November 17, 2014

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Fayette County, Criminal Division, No(s): CP-26-CR-0000523-2014. Before SOLOMON, J.

Anthony S. Iannamorelli, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, Uniontown, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Samuel J. Davis, Uniontown, for appellee.

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., PANELLA AND OLSON, JJ.

OPINION

Page 71

OLSON, J.

The Commonwealth appeals from the order entered on July 18, 2014, granting the petition for writ of habeas corpus filed

Page 72

on behalf of David J. Black (hereinafter " Sergeant Black" ) and dismissing the charge of recklessly endangering another person (hereinafter " REAP" ). We vacate and remand for further proceedings.

On February 21, 2014, the Commonwealth filed a criminal complaint against Sergeant Black, accusing him of REAP while he was working at the State Correctional Institute at Fayette (hereinafter " SCI-Fayette" ). The attached affidavit of probable cause averred the following:

On [October 20, 2013, Sergeant Black] did engage in conduct which placed another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury. To [w]it: [Sergeant Black] admitted to his immediate supervisor that he opened an empty cell at [SCI-]Fayette and allowed two inmates to enter for the purpose of " [s]ettling their differences." Inmate Alexander Fulton [(hereinafter " Mr. Fulton" )] and Inmate Brandon Duncan [(hereinafter " Mr. Duncan" )] entered the empty cell when [Mr. Fulton] struck [Mr. Duncan] in the head with a combination lock that was concealed in a brown knit hat. This caused serious bodily injury to [Mr. Duncan] that required medical attention. Review of cell door reports, video footage[,] and interviews conducted revealed that [Sergeant Black] was alone in the control booth at the time the unoccupied cell was opened and [he] was the only person who could have opened the cell. There were several safeguards in place that would have indicated the cell was unoccupied[, which] include[:] the computer touch screen in the control booth, the count board and the move book, all of which would have told [Sergeant Black] the cell was empty. [All o]ther correction officers on duty at the time were [] aware that the cell [Sergeant Black] opened was empty. This cell was also " capped" which prevents it from being opened [accidentally]. . . .
A [timeline] that was created from these reports shows that [Sergeant Black] was first seen talking with [Mr. Fulton], and then seconds later [Sergeant Black] opened [Mr. Fulton's] locked cell. It is believed that this is when [Mr. Fulton] retrieved the combination lock used in the assault. A few seconds later [Sergeant Black] opened the cell where the assault took place. . . .
After the fight was over, [Sergeant Black] admitted to [Captain] Richard Workman [hereinafter (" Captain Workman" )] that he opened the cell door and allowed the inmates to " [s]ettle their differences, but didn't think they would fight." [Sergeant Black] is responsible for maintaining security and safe operations within their unit in accordance with the guidelines established through appropriate departmental and institutional directives, rules[,] regulations[,] policies[,] and special orders. It is [Sergeant Black's] responsibility and duty to provide care, custody[,] and control to the inmates on his post. . . .

Affidavit of Probable Cause, 2/21/14, at 1.

Sergeant Black's preliminary hearing took place on March 17, 2014. During this preliminary hearing, the magisterial district judge heard testimony from Mr. Duncan, Captain Workman, and Criminal Investigator Frank J. Kamalich (hereinafter " Investigator Kamalich" ).

During the preliminary hearing, Mr. Duncan testified that, at the time of the assault, he was an inmate at SCI-Fayette and was housed on the prison's " F Block." [1] N.T. Preliminary Hearing,

Page 73

3/17/14, at 6. Mr. Duncan testified that Mr. Fulton was a fellow inmate at SCI-Fayette and that Mr. Fulton was also housed on F Block. Id. at 7. As Mr. Duncan testified, while Mr. Fulton spent most of his time in a wheelchair, Mr. Fulton was " fully capable" of doing such things as " walking, exercising, [and] working out." Id. at 18. Sergeant Black was the sergeant on F Block. Id. at 6.

Mr. Duncan testified that, in the days prior to the assault, he and Mr. Fulton had been at odds. Specifically, Mr. Duncan testified that: on or about October 17, 2013, he and Mr. Fulton had " a little verbal altercation; " on October 18, 2013, he and Mr. Fulton " spoke shortly; " and, on October 19, 2013, he and Mr. Fulton had " probably about a . . . five-minute argument." Id. at 11. As to whether Sergeant Black was aware of the animosity between Mr. Duncan and Mr. Fulton, Mr. Duncan testified: " me and Sergeant Black never spoke with each other, so I wouldn't be able to say with certainty that [the sergeant] was aware of" the conflict between Mr. Duncan and Mr. Fulton. Id. at 11-12.

As Mr. Duncan testified, on the evening of October 19, 2013,[2] the 35 to 40 inmates on F Block were outside of their cells and congregating in the " day room," where they were able to do such things as " [w]atch TV[,] play cards, [or] use the phone." Id. at 7 and 14. The evidence demonstrates that, while the inmates were in the day room, the relevant prison cells at issue were locked and could only be opened from the guard's control room. See id. at 44-46 and 49-50. Moreover, the evidence demonstrates that, during the relevant time, Sergeant Black was the only prison official in the guard's control room. Id. at 54.

Mr. Duncan testified that, while the inmates were congregating in the day room, he saw Sergeant Black in the guard's control room, speaking with Mr. Fulton. Id. at 8. Mr. Duncan testified that, after Mr. Fulton spoke to Sergeant Black, Mr. Duncan saw that Mr. Fulton was allowed back into his own cell for " maybe half a minute or whatever." Id. at 8. Mr. Duncan then witnessed Mr. Fulton exit his cell, roll his wheelchair toward an empty cell " in the back of the block," exit his wheelchair, and walk into the empty cell. Id. at 8-9.

According to Mr. Duncan, after Mr. Fulton was inside of the rear prison cell, Mr. Fulton " screamed" for Mr. Duncan's attention. Id. at 20. Mr. Duncan testified that he arose from his seat and walked toward the rear prison cell. When he reached the cell, Mr. Duncan testified that he heard the " clack-clack" of the prison cell door unlocking. Id. at 9. The door then opened, with Mr. Fulton standing inside of the darkened prison cell. Id. at 20.

With the door to the cell open, Mr. Duncan asked Mr. Fulton " [w]hat's going on?," with Mr. Fulton replying " [n]othing, I just want to rumble." Id. At that point, Mr. Duncan testified, he felt as though prison culture left him with " no other choice but to go in . . . that cell" and fight Mr. Fulton. Id. at 32. Mr. Duncan testified:

If I wouldn't have [gone back there and fought him], I'd be like the biggest coward, like in the jail, if I'd just sat there and the cell opened up and he's in there, and I'm just like, " Okay, now, I'm cool. I'm not going in there and fight him."

Page 74

You know. . . . I just felt like, you know, that my back was up against a wall. Like, now, the cell's opened up. You either go in there or, you know, like I'd be a coward.

Id. at 14-15 and 33.

Mr. Duncan testified that he walked into the cell, turned on the light, and -- at that moment -- was struck in the back of his head with a combination lock that was swung, by Mr. Fulton, from inside of a winter hat. Id. at 10 and 27. As Mr. Duncan testified, after Mr. Fulton struck him with the lock: " We fight. I held his hand trying to get the lock off of him. I hit him a couple ...


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