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Johnson v. Knight

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 7, 2016

BYRON JOHNSON, Petitioner,
WENDY KNIGHT, Respondent.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, United States District Court Judge.

         The petition of Byron Johnson for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding, CIC 15-08-0013, in which he was found guilty of attempting to traffick. For the reasons explained in this entry, Mr. Johnson's habeas petition must be denied.

         I. Overview

         Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of credit time, Cochran v. Buss, 381 F.3d 637, 639 (7th Cir. 2004), or of credit-earning class, Montgomery v. Anderson, 262 F.3d 641, 644-45 (7th Cir. 2001), without due process. The due process requirement is satisfied with the issuance of advance written notice of the charges, a limited opportunity to present evidence to an impartial decision maker, a written statement articulating the reasons for the disciplinary action and the evidence justifying it, and “some evidence in the record” to support the finding of guilt. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 570-71 (1974); Jones v. Cross, 637 F.3d 841, 845 (7th Cir. 2011); Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2003); Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000).

         II. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         On July 30, 2015, Correctional Officer Steven Hall issued a Report of Conduct charging Mr. Johnson with conspiracy/attempting to traffick in violation of Code A-111/113. The Report of Conduct states:

On 7/30/15 at 9:00 A.M. I, Officer Steven Hall, was having a conversation with Offender Johnson, Byron #188316 23B-1E. He was explaining to me how I could make a lot of money bringing him contraband. I told him it wasn't worth the risk and he told me I would never get caught. He stated that he has someone he has been trafficking with for a while and no one will ever know unless he tells.

Dkt. 8-1.

         Mr. Johnson was notified of the charge on August 4, 2015, when he was served with the Report of Conduct and the Notice of Disciplinary Hearing (Screening Report). Dkt. 8-2. The Screening Officer noted that Mr. Johnson did not request any witnesses but requested the video from the camera at the officer's desk at 9:00 a.m. for the purpose of determining whether he and Officer Hall were at the desk at that time. Id. A summary of the video was prepared by Lieutenant St. John, the Disciplinary Hearing Board Chairman. Dkt. 8-5. The summary states, “At time stamp 8:53:27 a.m. camera clearly shows a black male offender standing at the officer's desk on the 1/3 side of E unit. Due to the panning of the camera, I, Lt. St. John, was unable to positively identify the offender.” Dkt. 8-5.

         The disciplinary hearing took place on August 12, 2015. Dkt. 8-6. The Hearing Officer noted Mr. Johnson's statement that “I was not out of my room so I could not have been talking to Ofc Hall. He told me I.A. and him and close [sic]. I told him he got his strips [sic] taken over trafficking.” Id. Relying on staff reports, the Hearing Officer determined that Mr. Johnson had violated Code A-111/113. Id. The sanctions imposed included a written reprimand, 45 days of phone restriction, 180 days of disciplinary segregation, the deprivation of 149 days of earned credit time, and the demotion from credit class I to credit class II Id. The Hearing Officer imposed the sanctions because of the frequency and nature of the offense and the likelihood of the sanction having a corrective effect on the offender's future behavior. Id. Mr. Johnson's appeals were denied. This habeas action followed.

         III. Analysis

         Mr. Johnson alleges that his due process rights were violated during the disciplinary proceeding. His claims are that 1) the video summary proves that the conduct report was fabricated; 2) he was not allowed to present the evidence he requested at screening, i.e., the hearing officer did not consider it; and 3) the video was not reviewed by the hearing officer who presided over the hearing.

         Mr. Johnson's position is that the reporting officer fabricated the entire incident discussed in the conduct report. Mr. Johnson contends that the video that he requested at screening was exculpatory because it showed a black unidentified offender standing at Officer Hall's desk (and Mr. Johnson is white/mixed), it did not show any officer, and the time-stamp of the video was 8:53:27 a.m., all of which conflicts with the conduct report. The respondent responds that the video was not exculpatory because it did not positively identify the offender at the officer's desk because of the panning of the camera. It is undisputed that the Hearing Officer did not rely on the video in finding Mr. Johnson guilty.

         If the video was, in fact, exculpatory, then there was a due process error when the Hearing Officer failed to consider it as evidence. “[P]rocedural due process require[s] prison officials to disclose all material exculpatory evidence” to the petitioner in a disciplinary case. Jones v. Cross,637 F.3d 841, 847 (7th Cir. 2011). “Evidence is exculpatory if it undermines or contradicts the finding of guilt, and it is material if disclosing it creates a reasonable ...

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