United States District Court, N.D. California
KAREEM J. HOWELL, Plaintiff,
C. TRAN, et al., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NO. 44, 64
ILLSTON United States District Judge.
Howell filed this pro se prisoner's civil rights
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action is now before
the court for consideration of the motion for summary
judgment filed by defendants and opposed by Howell. For the
reasons discussed below, summary judgment will be granted and
judgment entered in defendants' favor.
following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted:
The events and omissions giving rise to this action occurred
in the period from July 16, 2015 through September 14, 2015,
at the Santa Clara County Jail. At the relevant time, Howell
was a prisoner of the State of California and had been
transferred from a prison in Folsom to the jail for court
proceedings. Docket No. 41 at 2. Also at the relevant time,
the three defendants worked at the Santa Clara County Jail.
Defendant Tran was a correctional officer working in the
jail's mental health housing unit. Docket No. 11 at 2.
Defendant Mahaffey was a correctional officer. Id.
at 5. Defendant Meyers was a correctional lieutenant.
Id. at 7.
states that he “has a mental disorder and suffers from
a frankly severe to extreme degree of psychiatric symptoms of
his bipolar [a]ffective disorder condition.” Docket No.
11 at 1. That information is from a July 30, 2014 declaration
in support of renewal of involuntary medication, in which the
psychiatrist also discussed Howell's many behavioral
The inmate has a history of significant verbal and physical
aggression towards Custody Officers, other staff such as
nurses and clinicians as well as towards other inmate [sic].
The patient-inmate has received multiple significant Rule
Violation Reports related to his symptoms of his bipolar
[a]ffective disorder over the course of the last 12 months.
In the time interval of records I reviewed from 08/14/2013
through 07/06/2014 the patient-inmate had a total of 5
threats against staff, 4 batteries against staff, 3 indecent
exposure and sexual misconduct charges and 3 charges of
destruction of property. It is important to note that Mr.
Howell patient [sic] was found guilty on all of these Rule
Violation Reports. At times his threatening behavior towards
Correctional Officers included graphic and detailed threats
to gas Correctional Officers by exposing them to infectious
bodily fluids in an involuntary fashion, to stab Correctional
Officers in the neck, to murder the families of Correctional
Docket No. 40-1 at 4.
Howell arrived at the jail on July 16, 2015, he was medically
screened by medical staff and then placed in the maximum
security housing unit. Docket No. 41 at 3; see also
Docket No. 64-3 at 1-2. The Classification Unit determined that
Howell required maximum security housing based on, among
other things, his criminal history and prison history,
including his “highly assaultive acts against other
inmates and staff while incarcerated, ” such as his
five assaults on California state prison staff in the two
years preceding his transfer to the jail. Docket No. 49 at 3.
When Howell arrived at the jail, the mental health staff
recommended that he be housed according to the Classification
Unit's decision. See Id. at 3-4. There is no
evidence that any defendant was in the Classification Unit.
was not given his psychiatric medications for several days
after his arrival at the jail. Id. When he filed a
grievance about the medications, he was informed that medical
staff “‘has to review your records from CDCR and
verify your medications if you are prescribed
any.'” Docket No. 41 at 3. His medications were
restarted on July 19, 2015. Docket No. 64-3 at 18. There is
no evidence that any defendant was responsible for
as he was housed in maximum security, Howell questioned his
assignment and expressed his intent to get out of maximum
security by smearing feces around his cell. Docket No. 49 at
3. The medical records contain numerous notations throughout
Howell's stay at the jail of episodes of Howell smearing
feces/urine in his cell, pushing feces/urine under the cell
door, and threatening to throw urine and feces onto
correctional staff (also referred to as “gassing”
the staff). See Docket No. 64-3; see also
Docket No. 48 at 3. The records also state that, shortly
after his arrival, Howell put his clothes into the toilet to
express his displeasure with having been housed in maximum
security, and said he would continue doing so until he was
rehoused. See Docket No. 64-3 at 12.
maximum security housing unit, Howell lived in a small cell,
with a door with a window that looked out into a hall. Docket
No. 61 at 2. He was allowed out of his cell for an hour every
other day to another area for his recreation time; the other
area also was a small room with a telephone and a toilet,
with the door left open so the inmate could come and go to
the adjacent shower. Id. Howell states that these
conditions had a deleterious effect on his mental health,
including causing anxiety attacks, depression, and suicidal
and self-harm thoughts. Id. at 3.
filed grievances about his conditions and his perceived lack
of adequate mental health care. Defendant Meyers reviewed the
written complaints. Docket No. 41 at 3. Howell asserts that
Meyers “turned a blind eye” to his grievances and
“failed to get the plaintiff help, even after the
plaintiff cut open both of his wrist[s] and documented that
he was suicidal.” Id. at 10.
Meyers' name can only be read on two inmate grievance
forms. See Docket No. 11 at 23, 25. Both grievances
were dated July 18, just two days after Howell arrived at the
jail, and both complained about his housing. Lieutenant
Meyers signed the forms as the facility commander/designee
and concurred in the responses already written by lower level
staff members. On one grievance form, (a) the first
responding officer wrote on July 18 that Classification had
determined Howell's housing and a mental health
technician had cleared him to return to his cell; and (b) a
supervisor wrote on July 23 that “you were evaluated by
mental health and not deemed to utilize [sic] a mental health
housing. You're a max security inmate based on your
behavior and prior custody history. Your housing designation
is suitable for your behavior.” Docket No. 11 at 23. On
the grievance form, lieutenant Meyers concurred and wrote
that “[m]ental health will continue to be available to
you.” Id. On the other grievance form, (a) the
first responding officer wrote on July 18 that they were
conducting 15-minute welfare checks, that a mental health
tech had cleared Howell to return to his cell with no
additional restrictions after interviewing him, and that his
housing was determined by Classification and would be
reviewed in 30 days; and (b) a supervisor wrote that
“you were evaluated by mental health and not given a
mental health housing location. You are a max security level
inmate whose housing designation is suitable due to your
behavior.” Id. at 25. Lieutenant Meyers
concurred with those responses. Id.
medical records show that, on the day he wrote these two
grievances, Howell was seen by a therapist, who noted that he
was in a safety gown (i.e., a “Ferguson gown”)
and did “not appear to be a threat to self or others at
this time.” Docket No. 64-3 at 17. A clinician also had
spoken with him one day earlier. See Id. at 12.
parties disagree as to exactly what happened on September 1.
Howell's version is that C/O Mahaffey came to
Howell's cell and accused him of flushing extra clothes
down the toilet. Docket No. 41 at 3. Howell denies that he
smeared his feces around his cell on September 1.
Id. Shortly thereafter, Howell began to have
suicidal thoughts and informed Mahaffey of this, and Mahaffey
told him to kill himself. Id. at 4. This caused
Howell to become manic and to start “to have a
psychotic reaction episode” that he thinks Mahaffey
failed to recognize as a sign of mental illness. Id.
Howell declares that, as he was asking for mental health
attention, Mahaffey opened the food port and pepper sprayed
him “directly into his face.” Id. at 5.
Howell states that he was ordered to turn around and submit
to handcuffs so he could be removed from his cell, and he
complied with those “direct orders.” Id.
at 5. Elsewhere he states that “no one
never (ordered) plaintiff to cuff-up.” Docket No. 61 at
8 (parentheses in source). Howell apparently draws a
distinction between what he perceives as lawful direct
orders, and other sorts of orders, but he does not fully
explain his theory. Howell further states that he “did
not resist, or threaten, or disobey any lawful orders.”
Docket No. 61-1 at 8. Mahaffey declares that he did not
pepper spray Howell. Docket No. 46 at 2. Mahaffey declares
that another member of the emergency response team that was
assembled to remove Howell from his cell tried to apply
pepper spray twice through the food port but Howell blocked
it with his buttocks. Id.
handcuffs were applied to him, Howell was removed from his
cell and taken to another room in the jail. Howell declares
that he was punched in the right eye, causing his eyeglasses
to break. Docket No. 41 at 6. In one declaration he states he
was punched by “someone” and in another
declaration he states it was Mahaffey who punched him.
Compare Docket No. 41 at 6 (“someone
physically punched the plaintiff into his right eye”),
with Docket No. 61-1 at 8 (“Mahaffey punched
him in the face/eye”). He does not state how he knows
it was Mahaffey who punched him. Mahaffey declares that he
did not punch Howell. Docket No. 46 at 2.
cell-extraction and transport of Howell were video-recorded.
Although some of the actions are obscured by people blocking
the view of the action, the video submitted to the court
shows the following: First, in the video, Howell displayed no
symptoms of having been hit with pepper spray in the facial
area, i.e., his eyes were not watering, he made no attempt to
rub his eyes or face with his hands in the time before the
handcuffs were applied, he made no attempt to rub his eyes or
face on his shoulders after he was in waist chains, he did
not have a hoarse voice, and he did not cough, wheeze or
spit. His orange jail uniform also did not appear to have any
moisture marks on it, as might have occurred if enough pepper
spray had landed on the clothing. He does not mention having
been pepper sprayed. Second, the video does not show anyone
punching him and does show that he could not have seen who
would have punched him if he had been punched. The video
shows that Howell was made to walk in an unusual manner,
apparently for maximum control by the escorting officers:
Howell was bent over at ¶ 90-degree angle at the waist,
with his face facing the ground, and was walked backwards
(with buttocks first) with several officers holding onto him
throughout the walk. He was walked down a hall, onto an
elevator, down another hall, and into another cell, where the
handcuffs were removed and replaced with waist restraints. He
then was locked in the new room with assurances that someone
had requested medical staff to check on him. The video does
not show anyone punching or hitting Howell. Indeed, at the
place he claims he was punched and a punch supposedly can be
heard (at minute 1:33 on the recording), see Docket
No. 61 at 8, Howell is still bent over at ¶ 90-degree
angle and still wearing his glasses. An officer is holding
his head with two hands to control him, and (at about minute
1:55), Howell's glasses are jostled and then fall off,
while the officer is still holding Howell's head with two
hands. A couple of that officer's fingers are in the area
of Howell's face and may have resulted in him being poked
in the eye, but the videotape does not show anyone punching
Howell. Nor, contrary to Howell's assertion, is there the
sound of him being punched. Third, the video has some
statements by the officers and by Howell, ...