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Chandler v. Warden

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

October 3, 2018

WARDEN, Respondent.



         Kevin Chandler, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed an amended habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (ISP 17-09-107) where a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty of sexual contact against staff without consent in violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) Policy B-204 on September 20, 2017. ECF 8 at 1, ECF 14-7 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 90 days earned credit time and demoted one credit class. Id. The Warden has filed the administrative record and Chandler filed a traverse. Thus this case is fully briefed.

         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). In his amended petition, Chandler presents a number of grounds he claims entitle him to habeas corpus relief.

         As a threshold matter, the DHO had sufficient evidence to find Chandler guilty of sexual contact against staff without consent. In the context of a prison disciplinary hearing, “the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.” Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-56 (1985). “In reviewing a decision for some evidence, courts are not required to conduct an examination of the entire record, independently assess witness credibility, or weigh the evidence, but only determine whether the prison disciplinary board's decision to revoke good time credits has some factual basis.” McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1999) (quotation marks omitted).

[T]he findings of a prison disciplinary board [need only] have the support of some evidence in the record. This is a lenient standard, requiring no more than a modicum of evidence. Even meager proof will suffice, so long as the record is not so devoid of evidence that the findings of the disciplinary board were without support or otherwise arbitrary. Although some evidence is not much, it still must point to the accused's guilt. It is not our province to assess the comparative weight of the evidence underlying the disciplinary board's decision.

Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks, citations, parenthesis, and ellipsis omitted).

         Here, Chandler was found guilty of violating IDOC offense B-204 which prohibits inmates from “[c]ontact of a sexual nature with a staff person, including contractual staff and volunteers, which includes intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any staff person. (Does not include kicking, punching, or grabbing the genitals when the intent is to harm or debilitate rather than to sexually exploit.).” Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process: Appendix I. 02-04-101APPENDIXI-OFFENSES6-1-2015(1).pdf.

         The Conduct Report charged Chandler as follows:

On Sep. 7, 2017, as I ofc. Rei was doing a security walk at 9:11 pm on the 100W range, I ofc. Rei stopped to talk to a[n] offender on the rec. pad which happened to be in front of 106W cell. As I ofc. Rei was standing in front of his cell offender Chandler D.O.C. 138734 grabbed my buttocks. I ofc. Rei then proceed[ed] to ask offender Chandler “why did you touch me”? Offender Chandle[r] laughed after I asked him the question. I ofc. [Rei] proceed[ed] to finish the security walk and followed proper chain of command.

ECF 14-1 at 1.

         The video evidence of the September 7, 2017, incident was reviewed by the DHO and showed the following:

On the above date [9-7-2017] and approximate time of 9:13 PM Officer B. Rei is walking the 100 West side range in DCH. There is an offender in the rec area that she stops and talks to. While she is talking to the offender in the re[c] area, offender Chandler in D 106 reaches out of his cell and touched her buttocks. She quickly turns around to face him and then proceeds down the range.

ECF 14-6 at 1.

         In assessing the evidence, the DHO determined there was sufficient evidence in the record to find Chandler guilty of violating offense B-204. A conduct report alone can be enough to support a finding of guilt. McPherson, 188 F.3d at 786. Such is the case here. In this case, Officer Rei, the reporting officer, documented the fact that Chandler grabbed her buttocks when she was performing a security walk on the 100W range of the prison after 9:00 p.m. on September 7, 2017. ECF 14-1 at 1. Here, Officer Rei explained that, when she stopped to talk with another offender in the recreational area across from Chandler's cell, he reached out of his cell and grabbed her buttocks. Id. In light of Officer Rei's first hand account or personal knowledge of Chandler's conduct, there was more than “some evidence” for the DHO to find Chandler guilty of sexual ...

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