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Bennett v. Brown

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

December 6, 2018

RICHARD BROWN, Respondent.



         Maurice Bennett's petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenges his conviction in prison disciplinary case number CIC 17-04-0139. For the reasons explained in this Order, Mr. Bennett's petition is granted.

         I. Overview

         Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of good-time credits, Cochran v. Buss, 381 F.3d 637, 639 (7th Cir. 2004) (per curiam), 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); Piggie v. Cotton (Piggie II), 344 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2003); Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000).

         II. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         Disciplinary case CIC 17-04-0139 was initiated by the following conduct report issued by Correctional Officer E. Boner on April 12, 2017:

On 04/12/2017 at approx 8:10 AM, I Officer E. Boner conducting a shakedown of Offender Bennett, Maurice #974997 18B-3D. I, Officer E. Boner along with Officer J. Matlock, escorted Offender Bennett to D Unit Control Area. Once in the control area, I ordered Offender Bennett to submit to mechanical restraints at which he complied. I Officer E. Boner then lifted up the shirt of Offender Bennett and searched his medical colostomy bag. Upon searching the colostomy bag, I Officer E. Boner recovered two pieces of paper folded tightly in a packaged fashion. Inside was a white powdery substance, and once tested was found to be cocaine. Offender Bennett, admitted to myself that the substance was indeed cocaine. This is a violation of Indiana Law, IC 35-48-4-6 Possession of Cocaine.

Dkt. 19-1.

         Mr. Bennett was charged with possession of cocaine.[1] He received notice of the charge and the conduct report on April 15, 2017; was convicted at a hearing; and received sanctions. However, the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) vacated the sanctions and set the matter for rehearing after Mr. Bennett challenged his conviction in this Court through a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See no. 1:17-cv-02833-JMS-TAB.

         Mr. Bennett received notice of the rehearing on November 17, 2017. Dkt. 19-4. The screening report presented to Mr. Bennett on that date indicates that he was unable to write on or sign the notice because his hands were bound in restraints. Id. However, M. Christy made several notations on Mr. Bennett's behalf. Id. Two of those notations are relevant to this proceeding.

         First, Mr. Bennett requested that he be permitted to present a statement by another inmate, Terrel Sims. Id. Mr. Bennett stated that Mr. Sims would testify that Mr. Bennett was not shaken down as described in the conduct report and never possessed the substance described in the report. Id. Mr. Sims furnished a written statement saying, “No officers ever went to his cell to shake down his room nor did he possess anything that they are saying he possessed.” Dkt. 19-7.

         Second, the screening report states that Mr. Bennett wished for the “substance to be tested.” Dkt. 19-4. Sergeant Jeremiah Pardue served as the disciplinary hearing officer (DHO) in CIC 17-04-0139. In an affidavit, Sgt. Pardue attested that he interpreted this notation on the screening report as conveying that Mr. Bennett wished specifically for the hearing officer to have the substance tested. Dkt. 19-13 at ¶ 5. Sgt. Pardue further attested that this interpretation led him to retrieve the substance from the investigations department on the morning of November 22, 2018, the day of Mr. Bennett's rehearing. Id. at ¶ 6. Sgt. Pardue says he then observed someone-it is not clear who-test the substance and that the test was positive. Id.

         Sgt. Pardue attests that his retrieval of the substance is documented in the evidence record for CIC 17-04-0139. Id. at ¶ 7. However, the evidence record presented in this case conflicts with that statement in at least three respects. First, the evidence record bears a different case number- CIF-17-0129. Dkt. 19-3 at 7. Second, the final three entries on the evidence log show the substance being moved (1) from storage to the internal investigations office at 1:45 P.M. on November 9, 2017; (2) from the internal investigations office back to storage at 3:15 P.M. that afternoon; and (3) from storage back to the internal investigations office at 7:17 A.M. on November 22, 2017. Id. In other words, the evidence log does not show the substance being removed from the investigations department on the morning of the rehearing. Finally, Sgt. Pardue's signature-at least the signature appearing on the hearing report-does not appear anywhere on the evidence record. Compare Id. to dkt. 19-9.

         There is no evidence before the Court of any other test of the substance attributed to Mr. Bennett. Neither the evidentiary record nor the briefing provides any reference to the testing that Officer Boner stated identified the substance as cocaine in his incident report, which was drafted seven months ...

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