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Brown v. Fambrough

September 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge


I. Screening Order

Plaintiff Thornell Brown ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed his complaint on March 30, 2009. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff's complaint is presently before the Court for screening.

A. Screening Requirement

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to § 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusion are not. Id. at 1949.

B. Summary of Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff was formerly imprisoned at Kern Valley State Prison ("KVSP") in Delano, California, where the acts giving rise to this action allegedly occurred. Plaintiff names as defendants: Jawayne Fambrough, correctional officer; Joe Garcia, correctional officer; Jackson Copeland, correctional officer; Felix Vasquez, correctional officer; Jose Gonzales, correctional officer; V. Yates, correctional officer; Stephaine Amoako, correctional officer; K. Carter, licensed vocational nurse; Jerome Peacock, correctional sergeant; C. Hays, correctional sergeant; John Whitehead, correctional lieutenant; Chris Chrones, former Warden at KVSP; Mike Knowles, former Warden at KVSP; and Anthony Hedgpeth, current Warden at KVSP. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶¶ 3-16.) Plaintiff alleges that defendants used unnecessary and excessive force on Plaintiff. Plaintiff further contends this was done because Plaintiff had complained of the strip search policies. Plaintiff alleges a failure to protect Plaintiff from physical abuse and psychological harm. Plaintiff also alleges that the warden adopted a policy or custom of not taking steps to discipline prison employees who engage in excessive force.

Plaintiff alleges the following. On May 31, 2006, several correctional officers were assaulted by several Mexican American inmates. On June 5, 2006, Facility D, where Plaintiff was housed, was placed on lockdown while prison staff investigated. From May 31, 2006 to August 2006, former acting warden Chrones implemented a strip search policy. Prisoners were to remove their clothing, wearing only boxers and t-shirt, and allow prison staff to inspect the inmates' body before releasing them to work assignment, visiting room, exercise yard, or escorts. Plaintiff alleges that the strip search increased potential harm to inmate health and safety. The inmates had to place their clothing items on the dining hall tables. Staff did not sanitize or clean the dining hall tables before and after the search. Chrones and Knowles then implemented a cleaning policy following each search. On June 28, 2006, Plaintiff filed an inmate grievance. Plaintiff considered the strip search policy unsanitary, punitive, and immoral.

On August 23, 2006, Plaintiff was the last inmate to be strip searched in the facility. Officer Garcia had pulled Plaintiff's boxers down in a way that Plaintiff felt violated and dehumanized him. Plaintiff stepped a foot or two forward, turned around, and asked Garcia why he did that. Garcia interpreted this as a threatening act by Plaintiff, and put his hand on his baton holster. Plaintiff stepped in front of officer Fambrough to have him do the search, but Fambrough refused. Plaintiff then lay prone on the ground to indicate to the officers that he was not refusing to comply. Plaintiff was then handcuffed behind his back by Fambrough and escorted by Fambrough and Garcia to the yard. During the escort, Garcia violently pulled forward on Plaintiff's right arm while Fambrough violently snatched back on Plaintiff's left arm. Based on the black inmates' reaction to Plaintiff's escort, the observation tower ordered all inmates to lie prone on the ground. Responding officers Hays, Peacock, Gonzales, and Amoako formed a formation behind the escort.

After exiting facility D, Fambrough and Garcia used both hands to grab Plaintiff by his arms and attempted to dump Plaintiff on his head. Plaintiff placed his left foot behind Fambrough's right foot and leaned back to prevent the two officers from further assaulting. Plaintiff landed on his back, as did officers Garcia and Fambrough. While Plaintiff was on the ground, Plaintiff was then beat, kicked, stepped on, and dragged by officers Fambrough, Garcia, Copeland, and Vasquez. Fambrough stepped on, kicked, and punched Plaintiff in the head and ribs while officers Garcia, Copeland, and Vasquez twisted and bent Plaintiff's arms backward, inflicting more pain. Plaintiff was held in the position for 30 seconds. Hays and Peacock watched but failed to intervene. Peacock then ordered officer Fambrough off, and instructed Gonzales and Yates to lift Plaintiff and escort him to the program office holding cell. Gonzales, Yates, and Amoako all observed the beating but failed to intervene. Whitehead stood at the program entrance door, observing the excessive force, but failed to do intervene.

While in the holding cell, Plaintiff was seen by K. Carter. Carter downplayed Plaintiff's injuries by failing to accurately report them in her medical report, in order to help cover up the excessive force use. Plaintiff sustained many injuries, including bleeding, bruising, and cuts to his face, head, shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles. Plaintiff also suffered pain in his shoulders and left rib cage, and contusions in the form of shoe marks. Plaintiff was interviewed by Whitehead while being videotaped for the excessive force incident.

Whitehead failed to do a proper investigation because he did not interview the inmates requested by Plaintiff. Plaintiff was examined by K. Carter after the excessive force interview and provided with band-aids and cotton swabs. Plaintiff requested examination by a doctor because he was in a great deal of pain, but K. Carter ignored his request, declaring him to be alright. Plaintiff was then escorted to the administrative segregation unit. Plaintiff's request for medical treatment were ignored. Plaintiff alleges that the large number of inmate complaints against staff put Knowles, Chrones, and Hedpeth on notice that there was a history of abuse at KVSP by prison personnel, but the wardens failed to discipline or train staff.

Plaintiff alleges excessive force, retaliation, failure to intervene, failure to discipline, and inadequate medical care. Plaintiff seeks as relief declaratory judgment, ...

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