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Royal v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

February 7, 2014

DENAR ROYAL, Petitioner,


JAMES T. MOODY, District Judge.

Denar Royal, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254 challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding. (DE # 1.) In ISP #XX-XX-XXXX, a hearing officer found Royal guilty of battery by bodily waste in violation of disciplinary code #A102. (DE # 8-7.) The charge was initiated on January 31, 2013, when Sergeant A. Neal wrote a conduct report stating as follows:

On the above date and time offender Royal #995156 threw urine on offender Cornett #206176 (Range tende[r]). While he was picking up the breakfast trays on the range I saw evidence of the urine on the trays and range ground. I escorted offender Royal #995156 to IDUIE104 without further incidents.

(DE # 8-1.)

On February 1, 2013, Royal was formally notified of the charge and given a copy of the conduct report. (DE # 8-1; DE # 8-2.) He pled not guilty, requested a lay advocate, and waived the 24-hour notice requirement. (DE # 8-2.) He requested witness statements from inmate Antwon Cornett and Sergeant Gothard (first name unknown), and requested review of the surveillance video as physical evidence. ( Id. ) Statements were obtained from the two requested witnesses. Cornett returned the form stating simply, "No knowledge." (DE # 8-3.) Sergeant Gothard stated as follows: "I Sgt Gothard shook down Offender Royal [sic] property when it came from DCH. His property was wet, I do not know if it was urine or not." (DE 8-4.) Prior to the hearing, the hearing officer reviewed the video as Royal requested, and summarized it as follows:

When viewing the camera I see an offender walking down DCH 400 east range at 6:01, he gets about halfway down and then turns back around off the range where Sgt. Neal is standing. Sgt. Neal unlocks the gate to let the offender off the range. Sgt Neal then starts walking down the range, he stops about halfway down speaks to someone in a cell and then continues walking off the range.

(DE # 8-5.)

On February 8, 2013, a hearing was conducted on the charge. (DE # 8-7.) Royal made the following statement in his defense:

My toilet was flooded and there was water everywhere. I asked ofc. Scott to move me, I had all my stuff packed, I also asked him to get Sgt. Neal. Sgt [sic] came and got me and started escorting me to MSU and I had no ide[a] why. The supposed victim even states he has no knowledge of the incident.

(DE # 8-7.) The hearing officer considered this statement, along with the witness statements, the video evidence, and staff reports-which included confidential documents-and found him guilty. ( Id. ) His administrative appeals were denied (DE # 8-8, DE # 8-9), and he then filed this petition.

The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees prisoners certain procedural due process rights in prison disciplinary hearings: (1) advance written notice of the charges; (2) an opportunity to be heard before an impartial decision-maker; (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in defense, when consistent with institutional safety and correctional goals; and (4) a written statement by the fact-finder of evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). To satisfy due process, there must also be "some evidence" in the record to support the guilty finding. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985).

As an initial matter, the respondent requests that the confidential documents, consisting of a page from the prison's log book and another confidential document, be maintained under seal due to security concerns. (DE # 9.) Upon review, the court agrees that these documents contain sensitive information, the disclosure of which could be harmful to other individuals or compromise the security of the facility. Accordingly, the motion will be granted. See Henderson v. United States Parole Comm'n, 13 F.3d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1994); Wells v. Israel, 854 F.2d 995, 999-1000 (7th Cir. 1988).

Royal first claims that he was denied the opportunity to present the log book as exculpatory evidence. (DE # 1 at 4.) A prisoner has a limited right to present witnesses and evidence in his defense consistent with correctional goals and safety. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 566. A hearing officer has considerable discretion with respect to witness and evidence requests, and may deny requests that threaten institutional safety or are irrelevant, repetitive, or unnecessary. Piggie v. Cotton, 342 F.3d 660, 666 (7th Cir. 2003). Furthermore, due process only requires access to witnesses and evidence that are exculpatory. See Rasheed-Bey v. Duckworth, 969 F.2d 357, 361 (7th Cir. 1992). "Exculpatory" in this context means evidence that "directly undermines the reliability of the evidence in the record pointing to [the prisoner's] guilt." Meeks v. McBride, 81 F.3d 717, 721 (7th Cir. 1996). The denial of the right to present evidence will be considered harmless unless the prisoner shows that the evidence could have aided his defense. See Jones v. Cross, 637 F.3d 841, 847 (7th Cir. 2011).

Here, Royal has not demonstrated that the log book was exculpatory. He argues that the log book showed Sergeant Neal was "engaged in shift change" at the time of the incident, which in his view proved that "the nature of the conduct report was ambiguously written rather than explicit, and the time of the incident was a deception and intent to mislead." (DE # 1 at 4.) It is unclear what he means by this statement, but the video evidence conclusively showed Sergeant Neal on the unit at the time of this incident. (DE # 8-5.) Furthermore, the time of the incident was never in dispute. Royal acknowledged that he was in his cell when Cornett walked by collecting trays; his defense was that he did not throw anything at Cornett, and that the area was wet from an overflowing toilet. (DE # 8-7.) Nothing in the log book bolsters this defense or otherwise exculpates him from the charge. To the extent the log book had any exculpatory value, it is clear that the hearing officer considered it in reaching his decision. ( See DE # 8-7.) That is all Royal was entitled to under Wolff. See ...

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