United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
PHILIP P. SIMON, Chief District Judge.
In a prison disciplinary hearing, Mario Leanos was found guilty of aiding and abetting the unauthorized possession of a cell phone in violation of a prison rule. (DE 9-8.) Proceeding pro se, he now challenges that finding in the present habeas petition filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (DE 1.) Leanos was originally charged with unauthorized possession of a cell phone - not aiding and abetting - and the charge was based on a conduct report prepared by Correctional Officer R. Thomas. (DE 9-1 at1.) Here's what the report says:
On 03-05-2013 at approximately 1220 I Ofc Thomas was the phase 2 yard officer when I was called on radio by Sgt Knauff to break up the group of NHU offenders talking with the offenders from PHU. When I got over there I told the 3 offenders to come here so I could do frisk search. While searching offender Leanos, Mario # 157927 verified by his ID, I felt what I thought to be a cell phone. I told Offender Leanos to give me what ever is in his pocket underneath his jumpsuit. Offender Leanos stated there is nothing in my pocket. I then told Sgt Knauff I was going to NHU to strip search Offender Leanos. While walking to NHU through phase 2 yard from center walk Offender Leanos kept messing with that pocket I told Offender Leanos to stop, in which he complied. He then took another step I noticed an [sic] black object fall to the ground. I proceeded to NHU to strip search Offender Leanos no contraband was found. I stepped outside the unit and told Ofc Ruisi to watch that offender because I believed he had a cell phone but did not find it during strip search but that he had drop [sic] something in the yard and I was going to get it. When I got back to where Offender Leanos dropped the item I found a Samsung flip phone with battery pack and cell phone battery.
(DE 9-1 at 1.) Pictures of the phone were taken and included with the conduct report. ( Id. at 2-3.)
On that same date, Sergeant B. Knauff provided the following witness statement: On 3-5-2013 at approximately 1220, I Sgt. Knauff called 286 on the radio to break up a group of offender standing on the walk. Officer Thomas, R. approached the offenders who were from NHU. They were waiting to talk to offenders from PHU. As officer Thomas approached offenders from PHU went on proper way back to there [sic] unit. Officer Tomas then did a pat search on the 3 offenders from NHU who were standing talking to PHU. At this time Officer Thomas started escorting offender Leanos, Mario #157927 back to NHU through the yard. Officer Thomas took offender Leanos to the unit for a strip search. At witch [sic] time he didn't find anything. Officer Thomas then came out of the unit and started searching the ground him [sic] and offender Leanos walked across. At this time he picked up a cell phone that offender Leanos drop[p]ed.
On March 11, 2013, Leanos was formally notified of the charge and given a copy of the conduct report. (DE 9-1 at 1; DE 9-3.) He pled not guilty, requested a lay advocate, requested inmates Steven Loy and John Matthews as witnesses, and requested review of the surveillance video. (DE 9-3.) The hearing officer reviewed the video prior to the hearing, but due to the angle of the camera, the incident could not be seen. (DE 9-6.)
On March 14, 2013, a hearing was held on the charge. (DE 9-8.) Leanos's two requested witnesses both appeared and made statements. (DE 9-4; DE 9-5.) Loy stated as follows:
We was walking back from chow walking slow talking to P-dorm they was comin[g] out of chow. Ofc. Thomas ap[p]roached us (John Mathews Me Mario Leanos) and asked us what we were doing and started to shake down Mario Leanos. So I threw the cell phone behind me into the yard towards the volley ball court so I wouldn't get caught with it. After being searched by Ofc. Thomas he ordered me and Mathews back to N-dorm where we live. Later that day I found out Leanos was getting a conduct report for a cell phone found in the yard. I don[']t want Mario Leanos getting in trouble for a cell phone that was not his and didn[']t at no time have. That was my cell phone found on the yard by Ofc. Thomas. I was the one in possession of the phone at the time of this incident. And I take full responsibility for it.
(DE 9-4.) Matthews made the following statement:
On 3/5/13 at approximately 12:30, I John Matthews #162466 was walking back to N-Dorm from the chow hall with both Offenders Mario Leanos and Steven Loy we were slowly walking as we were talking and interacting with fellow inmat[es] from P-Dorm as they were also coming out of the other chow hall[.] At this time we were app[r]oached and order[ed] to stop by Officer Thomas, he stated he would like to pat search each of us. Starting wit[h] Offender Leanos whom was ordered to turn around, while Officer Thomas was pat search [sic] Offender Leanos I observed Offender Steven Loy throw what I could see clearly was [a] cell phone behind him towards the voll[e]y ball court in the center of the offender recreation field. After pat searching Offender Leanos Officer Thomas th[en] performed the search upon myself, followed by Offender Steven Loy. Once Officer Thomas finished his pat search of myself and Steven Loy we were instructed to return to N-Dorm housing unit. Leaving Offender Leanos to speak with Officer Thomas. At no time during or immediately following, being pat searched and ordered back to my dorm did Officer Thomas find the ce[ll] phone I seen thrown by Offender Steven Loy.
In his defense, Leanos stated: "C/O Thomas and I do not get along. He talked smack to me and I talked smack to him. It's not my phone." (DE 9-8 at 1.) The hearing officer found the evidence more appropriately reflected the offense of aiding/abetting the unauthorized possession of a cell phone. ( Id. ) As modified, the hearing officer found Leanos guilty. ( Id. ) Among other sanctions, the hearing officer imposed a suspended sanction from another disciplinary offense, resulting in Leanos being demoted to a lower credit-earning class. ( Id. ) His administrative appeals were denied (DE 9-9 to 9-11), and he thereafter filed this petition.
When a due process liberty interest is at stake in prison disciplinary hearings, the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees prisoners certain procedural due process protections: (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, ...