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Watkins v. Superintendent

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

April 5, 2017

EZRA WATKINS, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          RUDY LOZANO, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Petition under 28 U.S.C. Paragraph 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a person in State Custody Seeking Review of a Prison Disciplinary Sanction, filed by Ezra Watkins, a pro se prisoner, on February 8, 2016. Here, Watkins challenges a disciplinary determination made by a hearing officer at the Indiana State Prison (“ISP”) under case number ISP 15-05-0210. For the reasons set forth below, the Court:

         (1) GRANTS the habeas corpus petition (DE #1);

         (2) DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment; and

         (3) ORDERS the Respondent to file documentation by May 30, 2017, showing that the guilty finding in ISP 15-05-0210 has been vacated and Ezra Watkins' earned credit time restored.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 27, 2015, Correctional Officer M.A. Cahill prepared a conduct report charging Watkins with Security Threat Group Activity. (DE #7-1.) The conduct report states:

On 5-27-15 I c/o Cahill was assigned to Tower 11. At 1350 hrs. I observed J3 Watkins DOC #110511 displaying a large blue piece of cloth which was hanging from his right pocket. I had observed him exhibit this behavior repeatedly over the past few days I worked. When he noticed I was watching him, he took the cloth in his right hand and defiantly twirled it in a circle over his head repeatedly. As a result of his behavior & exhibition I contacted Investigator Abram who confirmed that J3 Watkins was affiliated with the Folks and his display of colors was indeed STG activity.

(Id.)

         On May 27, 2015, Watkins was notified of the charge of Security Threat Group (“STG”) Activity and served with a copy of the conduct report and the screening report. (DE #7-6.) The screening report reflects that he pled not guilty and requested a lay advocate. He did not request to call any witnesses, but asked for “all material from I.A. showing gang affiliation.” (Id.)

         On June 1, 2015, a hearing officer conducted a disciplinary hearing. At the hearing, Watkins's comment was, “Had towel for 12 yrs. He asked about the towel in the morning. I knew he was already profiling me - I threw it on the ground to show I'm not affiliated. I got no problem if they would confiscate it.” (DE #7-8.) In an email, Investigator Abram noted that “Gangster Disciples are said to wear blue and black as their color. In addition, ‘folks' gangs all wear their identifiers to the right side indicating gang affiliation to this allegiance.” (DE #7-4.) Sgt. J. Schymanoske provided a written statement:

Prior to Ofc. Cahill's observation at approx. 1350 I had asked J3 Watkins DOC# 110511 not to display his blue towel hanging from his pocket. When I confronted him he denyed [sic] any STG activity before I even mentioned the possibility of any STG connection. He also confronted me about it after throwing his towel down on the ground in checkpoint #2 after Ofc. Cahill seen him @ 1350.

(DE #7-2.) Relying on staff reports and a picture of the towel, the hearing officer found Watkins guilty of STG activity. He imposed a penalty of 30 days lost earned time credits. (Id.) Watkins appealed to the facility head and the final reviewing authority. (DE #7-9; DE #7-10.) The final reviewing authority ...


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