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Velez v. Santiago

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 20, 2019

WILSON VELEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
A. SANTIAGO et al., Defendants.

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

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Wilson Velez is a pre-trial detainee in the custody of the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution.[1] He has filed a civil rights complaint pro se and in forma pauperis to challenge his security designation and confinement. Based on my initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I conclude that Velez's claims should be served on all named defendants.

         Background

         The following allegations are accepted as true for the purposes of the Court's initial review. Velez brings suit against Director of Security Santiago, SRG Coordinator John Aldi, a John Doe DR Investigator at Hartford CC, a Jane Doe DHO Officer at Hartford CC, and District Administrator Edward Maldonado.

         Velez arrived at the Hartford Correctional Center on April 5, 2018, and roughly one month later on May 7, he was “given a paper saying ‘pending SRG/Inmate conflict.'” Doc. #1 at 5 (¶¶ 1-2). A John Doe DR Investigator came to his cell three days later on May 10, and told him to sign the Security Risk Group (SRG)/conflict form “so he [could] hurry up and take [Velez] to the gang program.” Ibid. (¶ 6). Velez does not state whether he signed the form. Velez alleges that the DR Investigator did not give him a disciplinary ticket because he had been designated as having a gang affiliation with the Latin Kings by law enforcement. Id. at 6 (¶¶ 4-5). The investigator also did not produce a law enforcement report for Velez to review, and otherwise ignored Velez's objections that he had renounced affiliation with the Latin Kings in 2017. Ibid. (¶¶ 6-10).

         On May 14, 2018, Velez attended a Disciplinary Review hearing “without a ticket nor a report from law enforcement to challenge it.” Id. at 18 (¶ 11). Although he attempted to speak in his own defense, the Jane Doe hearing officer told him that his efforts were futile because he would be found guilty based on the law enforcement gang designation. Ibid. (¶ 12). Although Velez asked to be represented by counsel at the hearing, ibid. (¶ 13), his request was denied and the hearing officer upheld his SRG designation, ibid. (¶ 14).

         On May 21, 2018, Velez was transferred to the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution where he was put in a disciplinary “ticket group” and housed in the B2 unit. Again, Velez was not given a disciplinary ticket. Ibid. (¶¶ 15-16). Velez attempted to contest his SRG designation with John Aldi who was the SRG coordinator at MacDougall-Walker, but Aldi reiterated that Velez was thought to have an influential position in the Latin Kings organization, and that his designation as a gang affiliate by law enforcement was a determinant of his guilt. Velez protested, but Aldi disclaimed responsibility for the outcome. Id. at 18-19 (¶¶ 17-21). Velez asserts that he was only placed in the SRG program so that corrections officials could “defraud the Feds for more money.” Id. at 20 (¶ 31).

         In June 2018, Velez filed three requests to appeal his SRG determination with the DOC. Velez first filed an appeal request on June 4. When defendant Santiago responded on June 15, 2018, he informed Velez in writing that Velez had not received a “disciplinary report, ” and was not at that time subject to any disciplinary sanctions. Rather, Velez was designated as a Latin King Member and given a hearing regarding his SRG designation. Doc. #1 at 12.

         Velez filed a second appeal on June 10, 2018. Defendant Aldi reviewed Velez's June 10 appeal request, and responded on July 7 to inform Velez that “the information that was provided by outside law enforcement” regarding his gang affiliation status “was sufficient enough to bring [him] to the hearing where [he] was reclassified as a Latin King member.” Id. at 10.

         Velez appealed again on June 14. Santiago reviewed Velez's June 14 appeal request and responded on July 6, 2018, to reaffirm the statement he made. Velez appealed his SRG determination through the Inmate Administrative Remedy Procedure and after two delays, id. at 8-9, he received a letter from defendant Maldonado on September 5, 2018, finding “no significant errors with the due process” underlying Velez's SRG designation and upholding that designation, id. at 13. Maldonado also informed Velez that his “District Level decision [was] not subject to appeal.” Ibid.

         Velez states that the decision to place him in administrative segregation at Walker was not reviewed by the SRG review committee. Id. at 20 (¶ 28). He did not receive notice or a hearing before he was placed in the SRG program phase 2. Ibid. (¶¶ 28-30). He has experienced mental and emotional distress as a result of being placed in administrative segregation, in addition to difficulty defending his criminal case, and limited time with family who can only visit and phone the facility on a restricted basis. Ibid. (¶¶ 32-35).

         Discussion

          Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a prisoner's civil complaint against a governmental entity or governmental actors and “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” If the prisoner is proceeding pro se, the allegations of the complaint must be read liberally to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010).

         In recent years, the Supreme Court has set forth a threshold “plausibility” pleading standard for courts to evaluate the adequacy of allegations in federal court complaints. A complaint must allege enough facts-as distinct from legal conclusions-that give rise to plausible grounds for relief. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Notwithstanding the rule of liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint, a pro se complaint may not survive dismissal if its ...


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