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Torrez v. Frayne

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 9, 2018

MARK A. FRAYNE, et al., Defendants.


          Stefan R. Underhill, United States District Judge.

         Jose Anthony Torrez (“Torrez”), currently confined at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, filed this complaint pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, he asserts claims for failure to protect him from harm, use of excessive force, unconstitutional conditions of confinement, failure to supervise, deliberate indifference, false reporting of incidents/defamation, denial of adequate medical care, and denial of equal protection of the laws. The named defendants are Dr. Mark A. Frayne (“Frayne”), Dr. Gerald G. Gagne (“Gagne”), Warden William Faneuff, Captain Gregario Robles, Lieutenant Papo Melendez (“Melendez”) and Nurse Barbara Savoie (“Savoie”). Torrez' complaint was received on August 16, 2017, and his motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on August 24, 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

         Torrez has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. He also was sexually abused as a child. Torrez receives medication for those disorders.

         Torrez alleges the following. On June 28, 2017, Torrez became distressed because a close relative was experiencing a life-threatening condition. He wrote a goodbye letter to his family, tied a bed sheet around his neck, tied the other end to the top bunk and attempted to hang himself. Torrez lost consciousness. When he revived, he was dizzy, disoriented and on the floor. The blanket that had been tied around his neck had been untied. Torrez' cellmate was standing over him, asking if he was alright. Frayne was standing at the cell window laughing.

         Torrez was upset that he had not been successful and embarrassed that he was being laughed at. He got up, grabbed another blanket, and tied it around his neck and the top bunk. Torrez' cellmate began to yell for help and pressed the emergency call button. Frayne remained at the window and continued laughing. He did not call a code or alert custodial staff that Torrez was attempting suicide. Other inmates also began calling for help and pressing the emergency call buttons in their cells. Over Torrez' resistance, the cellmate removed the noose from Torrez' neck.

         Sometime later, Melendez arrived at the cell with other correctional officers and sprayed Torrez with a chemical agent. They did not follow the prescribed suicide protocol. Torrez suffers from thyroid gland complications that cause breathing problems. The chemical agent further restricted Torrez' airway making it harder for him to breathe.

         Melendez restrained Torrez' hands and feet before any medical services were provided. They took him to 1 West cell 101, rather than to a cell with 24-hour suicide watch. The effects of the chemical agent worsened. Torrez requested, but was not provided, decontamination. He remained in a safety gown suffering the effects of the chemical agent for over 48 hours. At no time did Savoie, Frayne or Melendez direct that he be decontaminated.

         Prior to June 28, 2017, Torrez had contacted Frayne, Gagne and Robles seeking mental health assistance regarding the issues that resulted in the suicide attempt. No assistance was provided. Frayne and Savoie, both aware of Torrez' mental health conditions, failed to comply with established procedures.

         II. Analysis

         Torrez includes seven counts in his complaint: (1) Frayne failed to protect Torrez from harm when he stood by and did not prevent the suicide attempt or immediately summon assistance; (2) Melendez used excessive force against Torrez when he disregarded Torrez' medical condition and ordered deployment of the chemical agent; (3) Melendez, Savoie, and Frayne subjected Torrez to unconstitutional conditions of confinement by failing to ensure that Torrez was decontaminated; (4) Faneuff, Frayne, Melendez, and Robles failed to properly supervise subordinates regarding suicide prevention policies and use of chemical agents on inmates with acute medical issues; (5) Frayne, Gagne, Robles, and Savoie were deliberately indifferent to Torrez' mental health needs by failing to provide mental health treatment prior to the incident; (6) Frayne delayed and falsely reported the incident as “manufactured, ” thereby defaming Torrez and preventing him from obtaining proper medical and mental health assistance; and (7) Frayne, Savoie, and Melendez denied him proper medical care by not permitting proper decontamination and not providing mental health treatment that may have prevented the suicide attempt. Although he referenced the Equal Protection Clause in his introductory statement, Torrez does not include an equal protection claim.

         A. Count One: Failure to Protect/Deliberate Indifference to Safety

         Prison officials have a duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure inmate safety. To establish a constitutional violation, an inmate must show that the conditions of his incarceration posed a substantial risk of serious harm and that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his safety. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). Deliberate indifference exists where prison officials know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate safety. See Id. at 837; Bridgewater v. Taylor, 698 F.Supp.2d 351, 357 ...

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