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Szeto v. Recktenwald

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 11, 2015

SONNY SZETO, Petitioner
v.
M. RECKTENWALD, Warden Respondent

MEMORANDUM

MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge

Sonny Szeto, an inmate confined in the Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution, White Deer, Pennsylvania (FCI-Allenwood) filed the above captioned petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2241, challenging a disciplinary proceeding that arose from an incident report he received for fighting with another person. (Doc. 1, petition). Szeto alleges that the Discipline Hearing Officer’s (DHO) finding he committed the prohibited act of fighting was not supported by the facts. Id. He claims the DHO made an unjust conclusion since there was a lack of physical evidence that he was engaged in a fight. Id. Specifically, Petitioner claims that he is “factually and actually innocent of the accusation written in the incident report: therefore, the sanction of lost good time credit is unwarranted.” Id. As such he “urges this Court to review the physical evidence submitted as exhibits which will clearly reflect that Petitioner's complaint is true and accurate.” Id. For relief, Petitioner seeks the expungement of the incident report and sanction. Id. The petition is ripe for disposition and, for the reasons that follow, will be denied.

I. Background

On April 09, 2013, Szeto was served with Incident Report No. 2430576 charging him with Fighting, a Code 201 violation. (Doc. 3-1 at 11, Incident Report). The incident report, which was written by J.M. Cramer, Case Manager, reads as follows:

On the above date and time[1], as I was exiting the Brady A Unit doorway, I observed inmate Hardison #10219-033 and SZETO #16365-014 engaged in a physical altercation just to the right side of the Brady A Unit door. Specifically, I observed both inmates squared off in fighting stances with their hands up to their faces. Inmate Hardison struck inmate Szeto with his left hand in on the right side of Szeto’s face as I approached the door. Szeto was stepping toward Hardison in a fighting stance when I opened the door and gave both inmates a direct order to separate and get on the wall. Both inmates complied, stating they were only horse playing. I radioed the Control Center officer with the situation and responding staff assisted in restraining the two. Inmate Szeto was escorted to Health Services by other staff for evaluation and I escorted inmate Hardison to the Lieutenant’s Office for an interview, turning custody of inmate Hardison over to Officer Kresock in the Lieutenant’s area.

Id. On April 11, 2013, Petitioner appeared before the Unit Discipline Committee (“UDC”). (See Id., Committee Action). Petitioner stated “He never hit me. We were just horse playing. We are friends. This was not a fight.” Id. Noting that a 200 series incident report is mandatorily referred to the Discipline Hearing Officer (“DHO”), the UDC referred the charge to the DHO, recommending loss of available good conduct time and ninety (90) days loss of commissary privileges. Id. During the UDC hearing, staff member, Robert Gibson informed Szeto of his rights at the DHO hearing and provided him with a copy of the “Inmate Rights at Discipline Hearing” form. (Id. at 19, Inmate Rights at Discipline Hearing).

Also on April 11, 2013, Szeto was provided with a Notice of Discipline Hearing before the DHO form. (Id. at 20, Notice of Hearing). Szeto did not request to be represented by a staff member. Id. However, he did request to call inmate, Rory Villejo, as a witness. Id.

On April 25, 2013, Petitioner appeared for a hearing before DHO, Todd W. Cerney. (Doc. 3-1 at 17-19, DHO Report). Petitioner was again read his rights, and he indicated that he understood them. Id. The DHO confirmed that Szeto received a copy of the incident report. Id. Prior to beginning the hearing, Szeto informed the DHO he no longer required initially requested inmate witness Villejo to provide testimony. Id. He indicated this by placing a mark on the BP-294, documenting his decision. Id.

Petitioner offered the following statement on his behalf:

“Hardison and I are friends. He came up and shook me as a joke. I grabbed him. We were just messing around. He never actually hit me.”

Id. Petitioner raised no procedural issues and no written statement was provided for consideration.

In addition to the Incident Report and Investigation, the documentary evidence which the DHO considered in making his determination included: (1) Memoranda from R. Kresock, M. Hause, C. Snyder and D. Barben, dated April 9, 2013; (2) Handwritten statement from R. Villejo #40290-424; (3) Evidence photographs taken on April 9, 2013; and (4) BOP Health Services Clinical Encounter for SZETO, S. #16365-014. Id.

The specific evidence taken from the relied upon documentary evidence was as follows:

Szeto’s involvement in the incident, as noted in Section 11 of Incident Report 2430576, as provided by J.M. Cramer, Correctional Officer, was reviewed. Paraphrased, J.M. Cramer writes: On 4/09/2013, at 1155 hrs, as I was exiting the Brady A Unit doorway, I observed inmate Hardison #10219-033 and SZETO #16365-014, engaged in a physical altercation just to the right side of the Brady A Unit door. Specifically, I observed both inmates squared off in fighting stances with their hands up to their faces. Inmate Hardison struck inmate Szeto with his left hand in on the right side of Szeto’s face as I approached the door. Inmate Szeto was stepping toward Hardison in a fighting stance when I opened the door and gave both inmates a direct order to separate and get on the wall. Both inmates complied, stating they were only horse playing. I radioed the Control Center officer with the situation and responding staff assisted in restraining ...

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