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Turner v. Warden

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

March 21, 2019

AKEEM TURNER, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Akeem Turner, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing where a hearing officer found him guilty of assaulting a staff member. ECF 1 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 90 days earned credit time. Id. He challenges his finding of guilt on a number of grounds.

         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, 536 (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 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.” Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56. Even “meager proof” is enough for a finding of guilt. Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000). As the reviewing court judge, I am “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).

         Turner was originally charged with and found guilty of assaulting and causing bodily injury to staff in violation of IDOC offense A-117. See Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process, Appendix I: Offenses (August 1, 2016). ECF 8-1 at 1, 8-15 at 2-3. On appeal, the Final Reviewing Authority reduced Turner's offense from A-117 to B-212. ECF 8-14 at 1. IDOC offense B-212 prohibits inmates from “[c]ommitting a battery/assault upon another person without a weapon or inflicting bodily injury.” See Appendix I, supra. ECF 8-15 at 5.

         Here are the facts as they were set out by Sergeant Washington in the conduct report that he drafted after the incident:

On the date of 10/04/2017 at approximately 6:13 [a]m. I Sgt. J Washington was walking 100 West in DCH to put out a fire. When I was about to leave the range Offender Turner Doc #171836 Cell #118 thr[e]w two apples at me. One apple hit me in the left arm and the second apple hit me on the left side of my fo[re]head. When the second apple hit me in the head I turn[ed] around to look at the cell number. [sic] Which is 118 West. Offender [T]urner then said to me “get you're a** off this range”.

ECF 8-1 at 1. Shortly thereafter, Turner had a seizure. ECF 8-2 at 1.

         On October 6, 2017, Turner was notified of the charge when he was served with the conduct and screening reports. ECF 8-1 at 1, 8-3 at 1. He pleaded not guilty and requested a lay advocate. ECF 8-3 at 1, 8-4 at 1. During his screening, he requested witness statements from offender Smith, Nurse Jacqueline Monaco, and Officer M. Buckman. ECF 8-3 at 1. Turner asked to view the prison's security video footage of the incident. Id. And he also requested the internal affairs staff to view the footage. Id.

         On October 10, 2017, the hearing officer reviewed the video footage and wrote the following summary:

On the above date and approx. time of 6:13AM, it is still pretty dark in the cell house. I do see that Sgt. J. Washington is on the range and stops at cell D 118. Sgt. J. Washington walks away from cell D 118 and offender Turner throws something from his cell at Sgt. J. Washington. Sgt. J. Washington turns back around, walks a few steps again and stops and looks back towards the location of the incident. Sgt. J. Washington walks to the front of the range.

ECF 8-6 at 1. The hearing officer denied Turner's request for the internal affairs staff to review the video footage because it was “redundant.” ECF 8-5 at 1. She confirmed with the prison's medical staff that Turner was taking prescribed anti-seizure medication. ECF 8-7 at 1.

         Three witnesses provided written statements regarding the incident: Officer Buckman wrote the following statement: “I Ofc. M. Buckman was further down the range then [sic] Sgt. Washington so I didn't see him get hit with a [sic] apple.” ECF 8-11 at 1. Offender Sutton provided a written statement even though Turner did not request one from him. He stated:

I heard Mr. Turner telling the officer to quit harassing him and get away from his cell. He repeated this several times because the officer walked directly to his cell several times after Mr. Turner was shook down. Never once did I hear Mr. Turner threaten ...

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