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Torrez v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 1, 2017

JOSE ANTHONY TORREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          STEFAN R. UNDERHILL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Jose Anthony Torrez, currently confined at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, filed a complaint pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging his conditions of confinement as a pretrial detainee and asserting a claim for failure to protect him from assault. The defendants are Scott Semple, Allison Black, Kim Jones, Lieutenant Syed, and Correctional Officers Victor Castillo, Anderson, and Pasquale Pisano. Torrez's complaint was received on July 20, 2017, and his motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on July 21, 2017.

         Under section 1915A of Title 28 of the United States Code, I must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Nevertheless, it is well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         I. Allegations

         At the time of the incident underlying this action, Torrez was a pretrial detainee confined at Bridgeport Correctional Center. Torrez is classified as seriously mentally ill. He suffers from bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorder. He has taken mental health medication since childhood. Torrez also has engaged in acts of mania and self-harm, and has suicidal ideations.

         On February 17, 2016, Torrez was in the admitting and processing area of the Bridgeport Correctional Center, waiting to go to court. He asked Officer Castillo for permission to use the bathroom. On his way back, Torrez stopped in front of bull pen #5 to speak to his brother. Officer Castillo saw Torrez speaking to another inmate. He yelled at Torrez, stated that he had only given Torrez permission to use the bathroom, and ordered him immediately to go to lock up.

         Torrez did not understand the verbal abuse and experienced an episode of post-traumatic stress disorder. Torrez told Officer Castillo that he had not seen his brother in five years and wanted to see how he was doing. Officer Castillo aggressively walked toward Torrez and again ordered him to go to lock up. As Torrez walked back to bull pen #2, Officer Castillo stepped in front of Torrez, chest-to-chest. Torrez raised his hands to show that he did not want any problems, and asked Officer Castillo why he was in Torrez's face. Officer Castillo then grabbed Torrez by his sweater and punched him in the face. As Torrez stumbled back, Officer Anderson lifted Torrez up and slammed him on the floor, inflicting lower back and hip pain. While Officer Anderson applied handcuffs, Officer Castillo struck Torrez in the head a few times.

         Officer Pisano called a code orange indicating that a correctional officer had been assaulted. Torrez was placed in punitive segregation for allegedly assaulting Officer Castillo. When he arrived at the restrictive housing unit, Lieutenant Syed ordered Torrez to undergo a controlled strip search.

         Two officers held Torrez bent over a bench in a humiliating manner. At least four other officers watched while another officer removed all of Torrez's clothes. Those actions exacerbated Torrez's post-traumatic stress disorder, which was caused by sexual abuse as a child. Under Lieutenant Syed's order, the officer conducted a digital search of Torrez' anus. Contrary to departmental policy, the search was not videotaped. Torrez was placed on in-cell restraints for a day and a half. The cell had feces in the air vents.

         Defendants Semple, Black, Jones, and Syed ordered Torrez transferred to Northern Correctional Institution for placement on administrative segregation. They believed that Torrez had assaulted Officer Castillo. They were aware that the conditions at Northern Correctional Institution would exacerbate Torrez's mental illness, limit his access to a law library, and affect his mental state so he might be incompetent to stand trial.

         Torrez asked defendants Semple, Black, Jones, and Syed to review the surveillance footage in the admitting and processing room to see that, in fact, he was the one assaulted. They told Torrez that there were no surveillance cameras in the room. Without camera footage, Torrez was unable to defend himself at the administrative segregation hearing, disciplinary hearing, and criminal trial resulting from the incident.

         While on administrative segregation, Torrez was subjected to solitary confinement and extremely restrictive housing conditions. He was denied telephone access, visits, commissary, CDs and a CD player, a television, a hand-held game boy unit, and other property which he used (such as a copy machine). Whenever he left his cell, Torrez was fully restrained. He was allowed one hour of out-of-cell recreation five times per week and three showers per week. He had to recreate outdoors even during inclement weather, but was not provided adequate inclement weather clothing. Torrez ate all meals in his cell.

         II. Analysis

         Torrez asserts four claims: (1) all defendants were deliberately indifferent to his safety and serious mental needs in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) defendants Semple, Black, Jones, and Syed violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by failing to transfer him to Garner Correctional Institution for mental health treatment instead of administrative segregation; (3) defendants Semple, Black, and Jones created a policy under which Torrez was deprived of adequate care and safety, and also ...


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