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Ellis v. Collins

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

February 21, 2014

DEMAJIO J. ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. B. COLLINS, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

CHRISTOPHER A. NUECHTERLEIN, Magistrate Judge.

On July 30, 2013, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgement. On October 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed his response in opposition. On October 31, 2013, Defendants filed their reply. On January 22, 2014, the Court held oral argument on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court issues the following opinion resolving Defendants' motion as discussed below pursuant to the consent of the parties and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

In their motion, Defendants seek summary judgment as to all claims raised by Ellis in this consolidated case.[1] Ellis's claims arise from two incidents of allegedly excessive force against him while he was a pretrial detainee at the St. Joseph County Jail in 2011. In this action, Cause No. 3:11-CV-231-CAN ("the 231 case"), Ellis raised claims based on allegations that six correctional officers beat him without legitimate justification on March 23, 2011 ("the March Incident"). In his second case, Cause No. 3:11-CV-232-CAN ("the 232 case"), Ellis raised claims based on allegations that three officers were involved in improper use of pepper spray and a restraint chair on Ellis on May 9, 2011 ("the May Incident").

Ellis has alleged the following counts in both cases[2]: (1) excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Collins, Wilkey, Bachman, Gillette, Heath, and Rager in their individual capacities for their participation in beating Ellis during the March Incident; (2) excessive force under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Defendant Olmstead in his individual capacity for his use of pepper spray on Ellis during the May Incident; (3) excessive force under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Defendants Olmstead, Heath, and Wisnewski in their individual capacities for their securing and holding Ellis in the restraint chair during the May Incident; (4) municipal liability under Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) for failure to train and supervise correctional officers in the use of pepper spray, shower procedures, and the use of the restraint chair during the May Incident against St. Joseph County; (5) failure to intervene when Olmstead pepper-sprayed Ellis during the May Incident against Defendants Heath and Wisnewski; (6) battery against Defendant Olmstead for his use of pepper spray on Ellis during the May Incident; (7) battery against Defendants Olmstead, Heath, and Wisnewski for their securing and holding Ellis in the restraint chair during the May Incident; (8) false imprisonment against Defendants Olmstead, Heath, and Wisnewski for holding Ellis in the restraint chair during the May Incident; (9) civil conspiracy against Defendants Heath and Wisnewski regarding the use of pepper spray during the May Incident; (10) civil conspiracy against Defendants Olmstead, Heath, and Wisnewski regarding the use of the restraint chair during the May Incident. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

The following facts are primarily not in dispute. Where the facts are in dispute, this Court has determined that the disputes are either not material or has chosen to address such disputes in the Court's substantive analysis of the issues.

A. The March 23, 2011, Incident

On March 16, 2011, after an incident involving intimidating statements toward staff, Ellis was reclassified as a "level *1* High Maximum Custody inmate for the safety and security of our facility." Doc. No. 64-2 at 17. In the days immediately prior to March 23, 2011, Ellis flooded his cell three days in a row and was observed putting feces in his hair. Id. at 15-16. On the morning of March 23, 2011, Ellis was placed in a restraint chair after failing to comply with officers' orders to be quiet following a verbal conflict with another inmate. Doc. No. 64-1 at 23-24. While in the restraint chair, Ellis stated that he was hearing voices and seeing things. As a result, Ellis was placed on suicide watch, which required that he be transitioned from the restraint chair into a green suicide smock. Officers from the Detention Response Team ("DRT"), who are specially trained to assist with high-risk moves of inmates who are assaultive or aggressive, were called in to take Ellis to the shower area where he could shower and then change into the suicide smock. Once in the shower area, Ellis's restraints were removed and Ellis was ordered to change into the suicide smock.

The parties dispute how Ellis conducted himself during his time in the shower room. However, all agree that the officers used force to take Ellis down to the floor. Ellis suffered some injuries as a result of the incident and was taken to the medical area to be examined by a nurse. Medical records show no medical treatment for the injuries.

B. The May 9, 2011, Incident

As of May 2, 2011, Ellis remained classified as a "level *1* High Maximum Custody Extreme Caution inmate for the safety and security of our facility." Doc. No. 64-2 at 14. On May 6, 2013, Ellis was again placed on suicide watch, this time for writing "die" on his torso. Id. at 23. During that week, he had also flooded his padded cell twice, refused orders to cuff up, and refused to get out the shower. Id. at 22-25. On May 9, 2011, Ellis flooded his padded cell for the third time by putting his blanket and suicide smock in the toilet. Doc. No. 64-1 at 15-16. He later defecated onto his bed cover and then spread the feces on the walls, floors, and window of his cell.

As a result, Officers Olmstead, Heath, and Wisnewski were then assigned to take Ellis to the shower to clean himself. When the officers arrived at his cell, Ellis was naked, covered in feces, and holding feces in his hand. The officers covered Ellis with a blanket and escorted him to the shower area where he was given a bar of soap to clean himself. While Ellis was showering, Olmstead stood immediately next to the shower stall viewing Ellis after keeping the shower curtain open.

Once again, the facts as to Ellis's conduct during the shower are disputed by the parties. In addition, the parties dispute Olmstead's statements to Ellis during the shower. The only facts agreed upon by the parties is that Olmstead sprayed Ellis with pepper spray while he was in the shower and that after the shower, Olmstead, Heath, and Wisnewski placed Ellis in a restraint chair. Beyond that, they disagree about how much pepper spray Olmstead released; the extent that Ellis was allowed to decontaminate after being sprayed; how long Ellis remained in the restraint chair; how often he was checked while in the chair; and how many days passed before he was allowed to shower again. Ellis acknowledges, however, that he declined any medical attention from a member of the nursing staff who was called in while Ellis was in the restraint chair.

C. St. Joseph County Jail Training

Jail policy requires that new officers shadow an officer until they attend Jail School, which is held annually. In addition, officers are not issued pepper spray until after they attend Jail School. At Jail School, officers are trained on ethics, defensive tactics, and legal issues. Specifically, officers are taught about the use force continuum, which is predicated on the principle that an officer is never to use more force than necessary to control a situation. Training includes proper techniques to be used based on the degree of compliance required by the inmate. Moreover, the training teaches officers which techniques never to use. Officers are also trained on the use of pepper spray at Jail School. Officers are sprayed with pepper spray as part of that training to understand how it feels. At Jail School, officers are also trained to use restraint chairs only when an inmate poses a threat to himself or is combative. In addition, the jail maintains a policy on showering.

Beyond the Jail School training, the Jail also holds regular supplemental training sessions every other Wednesday that officers attend if they are working that day. Topics for the Wednesday training sessions are determined based on recent events and concerns within the jail. These supplemental sessions reinforce what was taught in Jail School in the context of particular situations. Experienced officers who are part of the Detention Response Team ("DRT") also receive ...


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