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Ellis v. Hancock County Sheriff's Department

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

January 2, 2020

JORDAN ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
HANCOCK COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, HANCOCK COUNTY COUNCIL, HANCOCK COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 22)

          JAMES R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jordan Ellis brings claims against Defendants Hancock Sheriff's Department, Hancock County Council, and Hancock County Board of Commissioners for negligence and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Specifically, Ellis alleges that, while an inmate at Hancock County Jail, Defendants' negligence and chronic understaffing caused him to be assaulted by a fellow inmate. Defendants now move for summary judgment. (ECF No. 22.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         In 2013, the Indiana Department of Corrections State Jail Inspector recommended a staffing analysis of the Hancock County Jail (the “Jail”). (Staffing Analysis, ECF No. 30-1 at 4.) The staffing analysis concluded that: “The overall lack of staffing [in the Jail] creates a substantial risk of injury to the current staff and inmate population.” (Id. at 7.) The analysis advised Hancock County that eleven full-time jail officer positions needed to be created because “there are not enough jail officers to adequately supervise inmates, initiate activities, or complete other duties that support the agencies mission” and the “[l]ack of jail officers often times results in staff not being in proximate locations to inmate housing areas to provide immediate response in emergency situations.” (Id. at 19, 7.)

         The analysis also concluded that two jail officers must be stationed in the control room, the central security of the jail, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. (Id. at 18.) Two officers were needed because the surveillance footage in the control room must be monitored at all times, and control room officers have other duties as well, including: coordinating inmate visitation, answering questions from the public concerning release and bail, checking in attorneys and clergy, opening and unlocking doors, booking inmates into the Jail, answering the phones, and monitoring fire and smoke detection equipment and radio transmission. (Id. at 15; Burkhart Dep. 26:7-15, ECF No. 30-2.)

         The findings in the staffing analysis were presented to Hancock County and the Sheriff's Department. (Shepherd Dep. 14:16-15:17, ECF No. 30-3; Burkhart Dep. 19:4-9, ECF No. 30-2.) Every year since 2013, the Sheriff has requested additional funding from Hancock County in order to hire more jail officers. (Shepherd Dep. 15:7-16:13, ECF No. 30-3.) However, only three additional jail officer positions have been created since 2013. (Shepherd Dep. 16:7-16, ECF No. 30-3; Burkhart Dep. 21:16-24, ECF No. 30-2.) Further, the control room has never been staffed with more than one officer at a time. (Shepherd Dep. 59:6-19, ECF No. 30-3; Burkhart Dep. 26:1-27:3, ECF No. 30-2.)

         In May 2013, Ellis was arrested in Hancock County on burglary charges. (Ellis Dep. 15:9-16:16, ECF No. 22-1.) Ellis told the police that he committed the burglary with Aaron Robison. (Id. at 18:6-7.) As a result of the charges, Ellis was incarcerated at the Jail from May 2013 to June 2014. (Id. at 22:1-3; Ellis Aff. ¶ 2, ECF No. 30-9.) Robison was also incarcerated at the Jail for a period of time, but was housed in a different cell block. (Ellis Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 30-9.) Ellis maintains that the Jail had a policy of housing codefendants in separate cell blocks, (Id. at ¶ 4; Ellis Dep. 59:1- 60:20), but Defendants deny such a policy existed. (Defs.' Br. at 6, ECF No. 23.)

         In June 2014, Ellis pleaded guilty to the burglary charges and was transitioned to the Hancock County Community Corrections detention facility (the “Facility”) to begin a work release program. (Ellis Dep. 20:14-20; 22:8-20.) In June 2015, while Ellis was still in the Facility, he had an interaction with Robison. (Id. at 27:2-10.) Facility staff warned Ellis that Robison was there, knowing that the two were code-fendants. (Id. at 27:12-13.) Ellis approached Robison and told him that he did not want any problems. (Id. at 27:15-19.) For the rest of Ellis's time in the Facility, he and Robison stayed away from each other. (Id.) On July 21, 2015, Ellis left the Facility and was transferred to home detention. (Id. at 25:9-16.)

         Ellis violated his home detention on February 9, 2016, and was taken back to the Facility. (Id. at 31:3-21.) The next day, February 10, 2016, he was transferred to the Jail. (Id. at 31:23-24.) When Ellis was booked at the Jail, a staff member helped him fill out an intake form. (Id. at 33:7-15.) When asked: “Do you know anyone you cannot be around that's a danger to you or you to them?” Ellis responded “No.” (Id. at 34:20-35:1.) At the time, On February 10, 2016, Robison was not being held at the Jail, but rather was housed at the Facility. (Id. at 57:13-24.) Ellis was aware of this. (Id.)

         On April 10 or 11, 2016, [1] Robison was booked at the Jail and put in Cell Block B, where Ellis was housed. (Probable Cause Aff., ECF No. 30-8; Incident Rep., ECF No. 30-7.) Ellis was asleep in his cell when Robison entered Cell Block B at 10:43 a.m. (Ellis Dep. 40:15-22; Probable Cause Aff., ECF No. 30-8; Incident Rep., ECF No. 30-7.) At 11:06:00 a.m., Robison entered Ellis's cell. (Probable Cause Aff., ECF No. 30-8; Incident Rep., ECF No. 30-7.) Other inmates in the day room began looking over towards Ellis's cell. (Id.) At 11:06:27 a.m., Robison exited Ellis's cell. (Id.) At 11:07:09 a.m., Robison again entered Ellis's cell. (Id.) At 11:07:37 a.m., Robison exited Ellis's cell and began talking to another inmate in the day room. (Id.) At 11:08:07 a.m., Robison entered Ellis's cell for the third time. (Id.) At 11:11:37 a.m., Robison exited Ellis's cell and began talking to other inmates in the day room. (Id.) At 11:16:12 a.m., Robison entered Ellis's cell for a fourth time. (Id.) The inmates in the day room turned to look towards Ellis's cell. (Id.) At 11:18:42 a.m., Robison exited Ellis's cell. (Id.) At 11:20:59 a.m., Robison entered Ellis's cell for the fifth time and exited at 11:21:08 a.m. (Id.) Robison entered Ellis's cell for a sixth time at 11:24:09 a.m. and exited at 11:24:52 a.m. (Id.) Robison entered Ellis's cell for the last time at 11:28:24 a.m. (Id.) At 11:29:11 a.m., Robison exited the cell. (Id.) At some point when Robison was in Ellis's cell, he attacked Ellis. (Ellis Dep. 41:16-18, ECF No. 22-1.) At 11:39:29 a.m., Ellis came out of his cell complaining of jaw pain and spit blood into the trash can. (Probable Cause Aff., ECF No. 30-8; Incident Rep., ECF No. 30-7.) Ellis suffered a broken jaw as a result of the incident. (Id.)

         The cameras in the control room were not being monitored during this incident. (Evans Dep. 33:20-23, ECF No. 30-4.) Prison officials reviewed the cameras after the incident to determine what happened. (Id. at 10:9-21.)

         Throughout Ellis's time in the Jail, from May 2013 to June 2014 and early 2016, inmate-on-inmate violence was a common, weekly occurrence. (Ellis Aff. ¶ 14, ECF No. 30-9.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” A genuine issue of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court “must construe all the facts and ...


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