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Johnson v. Conley

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 5, 2018

OFFICER CONLEY, et al., Defendants.


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Roger Johnson has filed this action against several officials of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He alleges that these officials violated his rights when they removed partitions in a prison bathroom. He further claims that the officials violated his rights by threatening and harassing him for complaints he made stemming from that incident. For the reasons stated below, I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment.


         The following facts are set forth in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. In August of 2014, plaintiff was working in the clothing factory at Osborn Correctional Institution. On August 4, 2014, defendant Officer Conley and defendant Supervisor Zawistowski removed the privacy partitions that surrounded the toilets in the bathroom used by inmate workers in the clothing factory. Officer Conley testified that he was directed to do so by Supervisor Ray Monroe because of graffiti on the partitions. Doc. #38-5 at 2. Conley and Monroe testified that partitions remained for two toilets, but plaintiff testified that all partitions were removed for a period of two or three days. Doc. #38-4 at 21.

         When plaintiff asked Conley why the partitions were being removed, Conley responded, “so that you guys can holds hands while you take a shit.” Id. at 28. Zawistowski laughed at the comment, and said to plaintiff, “so do you think that they will get the message.” Id. at 29. Plaintiff asked what that comment meant. Seeing that plaintiff was upset by the partition removal, Zawistowski contacted Supervisor Hussain and told him that plaintiff was upset. Ibid. Hussain then contacted Monroe. Ibid.

         Monroe soon entered the clothing factory and stated that inmates are “fucking animals” who do not have any privacy rights when using the bathroom. Id. at 29. He further stated that inmates do not wash their hands after using the bathroom and take showers together either naked or while wearing boxers. Ibid. He then told the inmates that if an inmate wanted to use a restroom he would lock him in the bathroom and have Conley black out the windows. Id. at 29-30. Plaintiff understood this comment to be threatening and intimidating. Id. at 32.

         In response to inmates raising privacy concerns, Monroe instituted a rule that inmates could only use the bathroom one at a time. Id. at 21; see also Doc. #38-6 at 2 (¶ 5). But inmates violated the rule. Doc. #38-4 at 21. Plaintiff, however, did not report the violation of the one-inmate rule at the time. Id. at 22.

         While plaintiff was using the bathroom once without partitions, another inmate sat on the toilet next to him, rubbed against him, and gawked at him. Id. at 23. Plaintiff did not complain to the staff officers about the incident because he feared officers would retaliate against him. Id. at 23-24. Although there was another bathroom located right outside the entrance to the clothing shop, plaintiff did not ask to use it and believed that inmates were not permitted to use that bathroom. Id. at 22.

         That same day, plaintiff filed an inmate request form to Commissioner Dzurenda, stating that he had been sexually harassed, threatened, and intimidated in the clothing factory by Conley and Monroe. Doc. #38-9 at 2. Dzurenda never responded to the complaint. Dzurenda attested that he referred the matter to Warden Maldonado because he believed that matter was properly addressed at the facility level. Doc. #38-10 at 2. Warden Maldonado attested that he received the referral of the inmate request form/complaint. Doc. #38-11 at 2.

         On September 7, 2014, plaintiff called the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”) hotline. He recounted the partition incident and reported that he had been sexually harassed, threatened, and intimidated. Plaintiff believed that the phone conversation would be kept confidential, but PREA officials immediately contacted Osborn and informed defendant Lieutenant Correctional Officer Jamie Shepard that plaintiff had filed a PREA complaint. Doc. #38-4 at 36-37. An incident report shows that Lieutenant Fusaro, who had received plaintiff's PREA call, contacted Lieutenant Shepard so that Shepard could interview plaintiff and document the incident. Doc. #42 at 101.

         Shortly after the phone call, Shepard called plaintiff to his office. When plaintiff arrived, he found defendants Shepard, Spruil, Hebert, and another officer present. Shepard yelled at plaintiff and said, “What is your fucking problem?” in reference to the PREA call. Plaintiff was stunned, because he believed his call was confidential. Shepard argued that plaintiff's claims amounted to a misunderstanding rather than sexual harassment and tried to convince plaintiff to drop his complaint. Lieutenant Hebert also threatened to take away plaintiff's job. Doc. #38-4 at 37-40, 42-43.

         Plaintiff did not file any grievance complaining of retaliation, in part because he feared further retaliation. Doc. #38-4 at 43-44. Shepard prepared an incident report about the incident. Doc. #38-12 at 3-4. He then investigated the complaint and later closed it as meritless.

         Plaintiff felt that his concerns were not being addressed so he sent a series of communications to different prison officials. He sent an inmate request form to Director of Security Christine Whidden on October 21. Doc. # 42 at 123-24. Plaintiff also sent letters to the director of PREA on September 16, October 13, and October 24. Id. at 119-121, 126.

         On October 25, 2014, plaintiff attempted to mail legal documents to the PREA unit and to the Connecticut state police. He gave the documents to defendant Mia Lawrence, a counselor, in a sealed envelope. The mail never reached its intended destination, and plaintiff believes that Lawrence destroyed the documents to prevent them from being mailed. ...

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