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King Knowledge Born Allah v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 6, 2018

KING KNOWLEDGE BORN ALLAH, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff King Knowledge Born Allah a/k/a Philipe Colon is a prisoner in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He has filed a complaint pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Commissioner Scott Semple, Deputy Commissioner Monica Rinaldi, District Administrator Angel Quiros, Warden Carol Chapdelaine, Director of Security Christine Whidden, District Administrator Peter Murphy, Security Risk Group Coordinator John Aldi, Correction Officer Kelly, Correction Officer Cossette, Correction Officer Pacelli, and Lieutenant Bare. After an initial review, I conclude that plaintiff's due process and retaliation claims may proceed as to some defendants, but the remaining claims and defendants will be dismissed.

         Background

         The following facts are alleged in the complaint and are accepted as true only for purposes of this initial ruling. Plaintiff is a devout member of the Nation of Gods and Earths (“NOGE”) religion, commonly referred to as the Five Percenters. In a previous lawsuit brought by plaintiff, Colon v. Dzurenda, No. 3:14-cv-461, the Department of Correction (“DOC”) agreed to recognize the NOGE as a religious group and remove it from its list of Disruptive Groups. Doc. #1-1 at 26-43 (settlement agreement).

         On September 20, 2015, while confined at Cheshire Correctional Institution, plaintiff was involved in a physical fight with other inmates. He was subsequently placed in a restrictive housing unit on administrative segregation status and issued a disciplinary report for fighting. Two days later, plaintiff pled guilty to the disciplinary charge and received sanctions. Docs. #1 at 7- 9 (¶¶ 20-27); #1-2 at 1-4.

         On September 25, 2015, plaintiff received a separate disciplinary report for Security Risk Group (“SRG”) affiliation and was placed in restrictive housing on administrative segregation status pending the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding. The report alleged that the fight on September 20 was a gang-related dispute between the Crips and the Latin Kings. The report stated that plaintiff participated in behaviors that were “clearly and uniquely associated” with the Latin Kings. Docs. #1 at 9 (¶ 28); #1-4 at 1.

         On September 26, 2015, plaintiff wrote a statement arguing that he was a NOGE member, that he was not affiliated with either prison gang, and that the fight on September 20 was not gang related. Plaintiff also requested to interview several DOC officials in order to prepare his defense to the disciplinary charge. Although plaintiff acknowledged that he was affiliated with the Latin Kings a decade ago, he contended that the reporting officer had no evidence that he was an active Latin Kings member or that the fight on September 20 was gang-related. Docs. #1 at 10-15 (¶¶ 30-31); #1-5 at 1-8.

         On September 30, 2015, Correction Officer Kelly interviewed plaintiff as part of the disciplinary investigation. During the interview, plaintiff gave Kelly his written statement and requested interviews with several DOC officials who could testify as witnesses in his defense. When asked why plaintiff was being charged with SRG affiliation, Kelly stated that he had nothing to do with the charge and that it was coming from Director Whidden and SRG Coordinator Aldi. Both Aldi and Whidden were defendants in plaintiff's previous lawsuit, Colon v. Dzurenda, No. 3:14-cv-461. At the conclusion of the interview, Kelly checked off a box on his form indicating that plaintiff had not requested witnesses, even though the report also notes that plaintiff had clearly stated his intention to present witnesses in his defense. Later that day, plaintiff met with Correction Officer Pacelli, who was assigned as plaintiff's advocate for the disciplinary charge. Plaintiff gave Pacelli his written statement. Docs. #1 at 15-16 (¶¶ 32-36); #1-6 at 1 (Kelly interview); #1-7 at 1 (Pacelli interview).

         Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing for the SRG affiliation report took place on October 8, 2015. Contrary to plaintiff's request, Pacelli did not take statements from any of his potential witnesses or advocate on his behalf. Lieutenant Bare and Correction Officer Cossette, who were also present at the hearing, did not interview or take statements from any of plaintiff's requested witnesses. The officials only permitted plaintiff to read his own written statement in defense of the charge. Plaintiff was subsequently found guilty of the disciplinary charge and classified as a Latin King. As punishment, he received twenty days of punitive segregation, sixty days loss of commissary, ten days loss of good time credit, and was assigned to a level-5 security SRG unit for two years. Docs. #1 at 17-18 (¶¶ 37-39); #1-8 at 1-2.

         Plaintiff appealed the decision and claimed that he was denied due process at his disciplinary hearing because the officers refused to let him present witness testimony. He reiterated that he was a member of the NOGE and was not in any way affiliated with the Latin Kings. Docs. #1 at 18-20 (¶ 40); #1-9 at 1-9.

         On October 24, 2015, plaintiff was transferred out of Cheshire and placed in the level-5 SRG unit at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MWCI”). At MWCI, plaintiff filed a series of requests to his unit manager Captain Rivera regarding conditions of confinement. The requests complained about the unit's continuous use of handcuff restraints, which was causing shoulder pain, and about the small size of the recreation cages in the unit. Plaintiff also wrote a request to the medical unit complaining about his shoulder pain. Doc. #1 at 20 (¶¶ 41-43).

         On November 9, 2015, plaintiff sent a lengthy letter to Commissioner Semple detailing his prior lawsuit, his NOGE membership, and the SRG disciplinary charge. Plaintiff argued that officials had wrongfully accused him of being a Latin Kings member, that the fight on September 20 was not gang related, and that he believed the disciplinary charge was retaliation for his previous lawsuit. Doc. #1 at 21-28 (¶¶ 44, 46).

         On November 11, 2015, plaintiff filed a level 2 grievance appealing the SRG designation. In the grievance he alleged that he had never received a response to his original appeal. Docs. #1 at 28-29 (¶ 47); #1-14 at 1-3 (level 2 grievance).

         On November 20, 2015, plaintiff received a letter from District Administrator Murphy denying his original appeal of the SRG designation. Murphy's letter stated that the SRG designation was based on information and documentation that supported the guilty finding and that there was no “significant due process failure.” Docs. #1 at 29-30 (¶ 48); #1-9 at 11 (Murphy letter).

         On November 23, 2015, plaintiff filed several grievances regarding the conditions of his confinement, including the hand restraint policy and the small recreation cages. Plaintiff also submitted a request to Captain Rivera asking to be placed on “recreation alone status” because he was not affiliated with the Latin King inmates in his unit. Weeks later, plaintiff received a written denial of his grievance regarding the handcuff restraint policy. The denial stated that the policy was in place “for the safety and security of inmates and staff.” Doc. #1 at 30-31, 33-34 (¶¶ 49-50, 53).

         On November 30, 2015, plaintiff sent a letter to an attorney in the Inmate Legal Aid Program (“ILAP”) detailing his complaints about the disciplinary hearing and SRG affiliation. But when he spoke to the attorney a month later, the attorney notified him that she had not received any mail from him. Plaintiff wrote to several officials at MWCI regarding the missing legal mail. An investigation determined that the mail was logged as having been sent on December 22, although the ILAP attorney never received the material. Doc. #1 at 31 (¶ 51); 34- 37 (¶ 54-61).

         On December 9, 2015, plaintiff wrote a letter to Deputy Warden Chapdelaine addressing conditions of confinement and protesting his designated Latin Kings affiliation. Doc. #1 at 31-33 (¶ 52)

         On December 30, 2015, plaintiff received a written letter from Deputy Commissioner Rinaldi responding to his letter to Semple. The letter reaffirmed the finding of ...


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