United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION and ORDER
JAMES T. MOODY, District Judge.
Coady Coyote Craddick, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding. (DE #1.) In MCF #XX-XX-XXXX, a hearing officer found Craddick guilty of threatening, after he sent letters to another inmate attempting to retrieve an eagle feather he had loaned the inmate for use in his religious practices. (DE #9-6 at 1.) The charge was initiated on May 17, 2013, when Administrative Assistant Clair Barnes wrote a conduct report stating as follows:
On the above date and time, I became aware that Offender Coady Craddick #30794 had given a written letter to another offender, Offender Danny Darling #111331. The letter was given to Offender Darling in violation of policy. Offenders are prohibited from corresponding with each other through written or electronic communication. In this letter, Offender Craddick demands that Offender Darling return property that Offender Craddick gave to Offender Darling. Offender Craddick states, in part, "The disrespect stops here" and "Then explain that to the DNR and DOC Administration when they pay you a visit" and "Make sure you explain to them how you meet the definition of Indian.'" Because Offender Craddick is communicating a plan to intimidate another offender into acquiescing to his will, Offender Craddick is being charged with committing a B-213 violation.
(DE #9-1 at 1.) The letters Craddick sent were attached to the conduct report. ( Id. at 2-6.)
On May 21, 2013, Craddick was formally notified of the charge and given a copy of the conduct report. (DE #9-1 at 1; DE #9-2.) He pled not guilty, requested the assistance of a lay advocate, requested witness statements from Assistant Superintendent D. Walls and Correctional Officer J. Fivecoate, and requested a letter he had sent to Walls as physical evidence. (DE #9-2.) The statements were obtained, and Walls stated as follows:
I received a letter from Mr. Craddick requesting my help in retrieving an eagle feather that he loaned to Danny Darling #111331. I sent Lt. Schoettmier to retrieve the feather and paperwork, which he did without incident. The letter that was addressed to me by Mr. Craddick was in no way threatening to me.
(DE #9-4 at 1.) Officer Fivecoate stated as follows:
I was informed of a council member named Darling, Danny #11331 that had possession of the Native American eagle feather [owned] by Ofd. Craddick, Cody #30754. He asked if I could get this item back from him and I advised him I was busy at this point in time. It would probably be best if he went through the chapl[a]in. As far as the letters from offender to offender go, I have no knowledge of those.
(DE #9-3 at 1.)
On June 4, 2013, the hearing officer conducted a hearing on the charge. (DE #9-6 at 1.) Craddick stated in his defense that the chaplain allowed members of the Native American circle to communicate with each other. ( Id. ) He further stated that his letters to Darling were not meant to be threatening. ( Id. ) Based on the letters, staff reports, and witness statements, the hearing officer found him guilty. ( Id. ) As a result he was demoted to a lower credit-earning class, lost his prison job, and was removed from various prison programs. ( Id .; see also DE #1 at 1.) His administrative appeals were denied (DE #9-7, DE #9-8), and he thereafter 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).
Craddick's central claim, which he formulates in various ways, is that there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty of threatening. (DE #1 at 4-6.) The "some evidence" standard is not demanding, and prison officials are given considerable leeway over prison disciplinary matters. See Hill, 472 U.S. at 455. By the same token, while "some evidence is not much, it still must point to the accused's guilt." Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000); see also Lenea v. Lane, 882 F.2d 1171, 1175 (7th Cir. 1989) (evidence insufficient under "some evidence" test where it only established petitioner's presence in the area when other inmates attempted to escape). Here, Craddick was found guilty of threatening, which is defined as: "Threatening another with bodily harm or with an offense against the person or property." Indiana Department of Correction ("IDOC") Disciplinary Process For Adult Offenders, Policy No. 02-04-101 (eff. June 1, 2012). Upon review of the letters in their entirety, the court agrees with Craddick that they do not contain any statements that meet this definition.
The first document is an open letter from Craddick to "Individuals who Possess A Golden Eagle Feather or Hawk Feather I Personally Handed Down to Them."(DE #9-1 at 3-4.) In the letter Craddick expresses his view that certain inmates who were in possession of his feathers were not acting in accordance with Native American principles, including using profanity around the feathers, showing off the feathers to others in a "boastful" manner, and failing to attend Native American religious services. ( Id. ) He closed the letter as follows:
The eagle and hawk feathers were not intended for these purposes listed above. The disrespect stops here, and believe me I have learned a valuable lesson in never to hand down eagle or hawk feathers to ...