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Garcia v. Bucks County Justice Center

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 18, 2017

HAMLET GARCIA, JR.
v.
BUCKS COUNTY JUSTICE CENTER, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          MCHUGH, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Hamlet Garcia, Jr. filed this civil action against numerous defendants, essentially based on his arrest and conviction, and the conditions in which he was imprisoned in Bucks County. The gist of his complaint is that his rights were violated in various respects in connection with his four-year experience with the criminal justice system. For the following reasons, the Court will grant plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his complaint. Plaintiff will be given an opportunity to file an amended complaint.

         I. FACTS [1]

         Plaintiff alleges that a police officer illegally searched his vehicle in December of 2012, and found cannabis. Plaintiff was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. See Commonwealth v. Garcia, Docket No. CP-09-CR-0002053-2013 (Bucks Cty. Ct. of Common Pleas). The criminal docket reflects that on March 4, 2014, plaintiff pled guilty and was given probation for one year, with the option to close probation in six months if he paid his costs and did not receive any misconducts.

         It appears that plaintiff did not pay his court costs and was charged with violating probation/parole. According to the docket, he was found was found guilty of that violation on March 3, 2016. See Id. Plaintiff alleges that he was given a choice to either serve ninety days to eleven months in jail or agree to be placed on probation for one year. (Compl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff pled guilty to avoid jail time; he alleges that he signed the plea agreement under duress.[2] According to the complaint, plaintiff was again arrested for violating probation/parole on December 1, 2016. It appears from the docket that he was incarcerated and released on December 21, 2016, after his court costs were paid in full.

         The complaint provides details about plaintiffs criminal case and the conditions in which he was incarcerated. It is not necessarily clear when the events described occurred in relation to plaintiffs several arrests, so the Court has done its best to interpret what happened to plaintiff and when.

         According to plaintiff, his car was illegally searched and towed, and he was taken to the 24th District in Philadelphia where he "was given little food/water, no hygiene supply, toilet papers, or a bed to sit/lay for the next 14 or so hours." (Compl. ¶ 19.) That allegation appears to relate to plaintiffs initial arrest in 2012. The next day, plaintiff was visited by an individual- presumably a public defender-who asked if plaintiff was interested in taking a plea. Plaintiff notes that he was unaware of the charges against him and did not agree to be represented by the public defender.

         At arraignment, the prosecutor and a witness made statements with which plaintiff disagreed. Plaintiff asked the attorney representing him if he could get a new judge because the presiding judge was elderly and disabled; the attorney replied "no." At some point while the criminal proceeding was pending, plaintiff alleges that he was held for absconding. He claims that the judge accepted the prosecutor's recommendation to hold him for trial, and he was transferred to custody of the Bucks County Department of Corrections.

         In custody, plaintiff "requested to be treated with the same respect and for religious purposes to have the proper instruments to remain clean throughout [his] stay." (Compl. ¶ 27.) He alleges that the "majority of [his] accommodations was in approximately a 15 X 18 feet 'program room' with upwards to (15) inmates residing at a time -minimal ventilation and little supervision." (Id. ¶ 28.)

         During his incarceration, plaintiff fell from the top bunk and landed on the back of his head. He was sent to the nurse's office, where he claims to have received "very little medical attention." (Compl. ¶ 32.) However, he also alleges that he was given a pill and put on medical watch for four days out of concern that he might have a concussion. Plaintiff contends that medical watch "consisted of being forced inside a cell 24 hours of the day with no communication or activity" and notes that he "was in a daze and spen[t] 75% or almost the day sleeping" because of the fall and his medication. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.)

         While on medical watch, plaintiff sent a letter to the administration "stating [his] rights and requirements during [his] stay as well as complaints about improper housing, safety, and health codes issues." (Compl. ¶ 34.) The next day, plaintiff was placed on psychiatric watch, which required him to abide by certain limitations until he spoke to a doctor about the concerns in his letter. Two days later, plaintiff spoke with a doctor, who asked if plaintiff was looking to hurt himself; plaintiff was later released back to the program room where he was given a top bunk bed.

         The complaint implies that plaintiff believes he was targeted because of his knowledge of the law. He alleges that on one evening, he was awakened by a correctional officer and told that a Sergeant wanted to see him. The Sergeant allegedly asked plaintiff about his knowledge of the law and "'reminded' . . . [him] that recruiting is against policy." (Compl. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff was then sent back to his cell.

         A day before plaintiff was scheduled to have a hearing in his case, he was visited by a public defender named Christina King who indicated that she would be representing him. She informed plaintiff that he would be facing ninety days to eleven months in jail. Plaintiff asked whether he could go home and she responded in the negative. He then informed Ms. King that he wanted to represent himself at the hearing. The allegations concerning Ms. King appear to relate to plaintiffs most recent arrest and incarceration.

         After the prosecutor made an opening statement at the hearing, plaintiff alleged that he signed the earlier plea agreement under duress. Ms. King, who was present at the hearing, interrupted plaintiff by informing the judge that plaintiffs step-father would pay his court costs in full if he were released that day. The judge agreed to that arrangement and released plaintiff pending payment. Plaintiff explains that, as a result of the above events, he has been "prosecuted for over ...


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