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Alston v. Pafumi

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 7, 2016

IRA ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL PAFUMI, ET AL., Defendants.

RULING ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Ira Alston, is a convicted prisoner in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) at Northern Correctional Institution (“Northern”). Mr. Alston filed this action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against twenty-four DOC employees. The Court appointed counsel to represent Mr. Alston. Defendants move for summary judgment as to all claims. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

II. FACTS[1]

Mr. Alston is serving a thirty-six year sentence for manslaughter in the first degree. He is incarcerated at Northern, which is a maximum security facility designed to house inmates who have demonstrated a serious inability to adjust to confinement, and who pose a threat to the safety and security of the community, staff, and other inmates. Mr. Alston’s Inmate Overview Sheet dated November 2009 classifies him as “Assaultive” and a “BLOODS THREAT” and gives him a score of “4” for “Security Risk Group.” Defs.’ Ex. 1. As of November 2009, Mr. Alston had received over 120 disciplinary tickets, including 50 for interfering with safety and security, 15 for disobeying direct orders, 13 for threats, 4 for assaulting DOC staff, 5 for fighting, 4 for flagrant disobedience, and the remainder for various other offenses. See Defs.’ Ex. 41.

A. Complaints

Mr. Alston attests that he filed a claim on October 18, 2009 reporting two missing boxes of legal mail and one missing box of personal effects. He attests that, when he later confronted Lt. Pafumi about this issue, Lt. Pafumi became verbally abusive. Mr. Alston then filed a complaint against Lt. Pafumi for the alleged verbal abuse. Lt. Pafumi attests that he has no recollection of Mr. Alston’s property boxes, or the alleged interaction.

Mr. Alston attests that, on November 6, 2009, Lt. Pafumi instructed an officer to issue Mr. Alston a disciplinary ticket. When Mr. Alston asked why, Lt. Pafumi allegedly responded, “You’ll see, ” and allegedly threatened that he and other officers were “going to make [Mr. Alston’s] life a living hell.” Mr. Alston was issued a ticket later that day for using inappropriate language in an inmate request form.

After receiving that ticket, Mr. Alston allegedly filed a complaint requesting an investigation into alleged misuse of the disciplinary process by Lt. Pafumi as a means for retaliation and harassment. Mr. Alston attests that, on November 14, 2009, Lt. Pafumi said to him, “we have something real special for you Mr. Alston.”

B. Incidents of November 23-26

On November 23, 2009, Mr. Alston called the housing unit control pod and asked for ibuprofen to relieve his alleged headache. Correctional Officer (“CO”) Sledzianowski answered, refused to summon the nurse, and then hung up. Mr. Alston called again and asked CO Bowerman for ibuprofen. CO Bowerman did not give Mr. Alston ibuprofen. Nurse Dudley was administering a medication line at or around the same time, and she also refused to give Mr. Alston ibuprofen, claiming that he needed to submit a sick call request to receive such medication and that sick call requests were not handled during medical line administration.

Mr. Alston then covered his cell door window.[2] Inmates are not allowed to cover their cell door windows because this prevents DOC staff from being able to tell if inmates are harming themselves or engaging in destructive or prohibited behavior. Facility operating procedures provide that “[a]n inmate is not permitted to . . . hang drapery over the front of the cell door or window, or obstruct an open view into the cell or the back window of the cell.” Defs.’ Ex. 8, Attachment D.

COs at Northern are trained to call a lieutenant when they encounter a non-compliant inmate. Thus, when Mr. Alston covered his cell window, a CO placed a call and Lt. Pafumi responded. After Lt. Pafumi arrived outside of Mr. Alston’s cell door, he directed CO Wiseman to record his interaction with Mr. Alston with a handheld video camera. The video shows Lt. Pafumi instructing Mr. Alston to uncover his cell door window. Mr. Alston removed the obstruction.

After Mr. Alston uncovered his window, Lt. Pafumi instructed Mr. Alston to put his hands through the trap on the cell door so that he could be handcuffed and removed from the cell, a process referred to as “cuffing up.” Mr. Alston was repeatedly non-compliant with Lt. Pafumi’s orders to “cuff up.”

Someone from the mental health unit told Mr. Alston that if he continued to refuse orders to “cuff up, ” then a chemical agent might be deployed to gain his compliance. Mr. Alston eventually complied and put his hands through the trap. He was handcuffed, removed from his cell, and escorted to another cell. Upon his arrival in the new cell, Mr. Alston was strip-searched, provided clean clothes, and placed on in-cell restraints. DOC rules provide that inmates placed on in-cell restraints are to have their hands handcuffed in front of them, leg irons secured to their ankles, and a tether chain attaching the leg irons to the handcuffs with a length of chain that allows the inmate to stand erect. Admin. Directive 6.5 ¶ 8.B.3.

While staff attempted to put Mr. Alston on in-cell restraints, Mr. Alston refused to obey orders to lift his legs to allow DOC staff to change his pants and underwear. Mr. Alston then went limp and allowed his legs to hang as dead weight while DOC attempted to change his pants and underwear, and he continued to refuse orders to lift his legs. After the in-cell restraints were in place, Nurse Dudley checked the spacing on Mr. Alston’s restraints and confirmed that she could place multiple fingers between Mr. Alston’s skin and the restraints. Mr. Alston complained that he was “short-chained, ” i.e., that the tether chain attaching his leg irons to his handcuffs was too short. The video footage shows that Mr. Alston was able to stand fully erect after the in-cell restraints were applied.

After Lt. Pafumi and other staff left the cell, Mr. Alston complained that the cell smelled like feces. Lt. Pafumi attests that the cell did not smell like feces. The video shows no feces smeared about the cell. Mr. Alston attests that the toilet was filled with feces and that he could not flush the toilet because the flush mechanism was controlled by COs outside of the cell.

After Mr. Alston was placed on in-cell restraints, CO Marquiss issued him a disciplinary report for the offense of “Interfering with Safety and Security.” Defs.’ Ex. 5.

While Mr. Alston was on in-cell restraint status, he was placed on 15 minute watch. Staff maintained a restraint checklist to document their observations of Mr. Alston’s behavior every 15 minutes. The checklist indicates that, for some stretches of time, Mr. Alston was yelling, cursing, beating on the door or wall, and/or standing on the sink, and that, for other stretches of time, he was lying down, sitting, eating a meal, and/or undergoing an inspection. See generally Defs.’ Ex. 17. On November 24 and 25, Lt. Pafumi prepared incident reports in which he indicated that Mr. Alston’s in-cell restraint status would continue based on the disruptive behavior documented on the checklist. Defs.’ Ex. 16 at 5, 6.

C. Alleged Conduct of Lieutenant Saylor

1. Alleged Visit

Mr. Alston attests that, at approximately 11:00 a.m. on November 26, Lt. Saylor allegedly entered Mr. Alston’s cell, allegedly slapped Mr. Alston across the face repeatedly with the front and back of his hand while Mr. Alston lay in bed in restraints, allegedly grabbed Mr. Alston by the neck and shoved his head and face into the wall, allegedly yelled obscenities at Mr. Alston, and allegedly choked Mr. Alston until near unconsciousness while allegedly threatening to kill Mr. Alston if he told anyone about this incident. Lt. Saylor denies all of this.

2. Unsuccessful Attempt to Remove In-Cell Restraints

At approximately 12:20 p.m. on November 26, Lt. Saylor went to Mr. Alston’s cell to evaluate his in-cell restraint status because Mr. Alston was approaching the 72-hour limit for such status. Lt. Saylor noted that the restraint checklist indicated that Mr. Alston had not engaged in disruptive behavior since 9:00 a.m. that day. Lt. Saylor directed CO Wiseman to use a handheld video camera to record the removal of Mr. Alston from in-cell restraint status.

Lt. Saylor entered Mr. Alston’s cell and told Mr. Alston that he was being taken off of in-cell restraint status. Mr. Alston repeatedly refused to respond to Lt. Saylor. When Lt. Saylor asked him why, Mr. Alston replied that he had asked to get off of in-cell restraint status three days prior, and then demanded to speak with the Commissioner of the DOC to get DOC staff to “stop abusing me.” Lt. Saylor told Mr. Alston that his failure to obey his orders would result in his being placed on custody stationary restraints. Mr. Alston continued to passively resist, demanding to speak with the Commissioner of the DOC. Mr. Alston also complained that his lotion and soap had been taken from him. DOC rules do not allow items like lotion and soap in an inmate’s cell while on in-cell restraint status. Lt. Saylor retrieved some additional materials from Mr. Alston’s cell that he was not allowed to have in his possession at that time, including legal pads and envelopes.

Lt. Saylor then instructed Mr. Alston to sit up so that the in-cell restraints could be removed. Mr. Alston remained non-compliant and non-responsive. Lt. Saylor did not remove Mr. Alston’s restraints and left the ...


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