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Baltas v. Rivera

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 21, 2019

JOE BALTAS, Plaintiff,
v.
HECTOR RIVERA, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          MICHAEL P. SHEA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Joe Baltas, currently incarcerated at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, filed this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff sues five employees of the Connecticut Department of Correction: Lieutenant Hector Rivera, Lieutenant Harris, Counselor Scheaffer, Captain Ernesteine Green, and Warden Allison Black. He contends that the defendants violated his rights under the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The plaintiff seeks a prejudgment remedy, compensatory damages, “spoliation sanctions, ” punitive damages, costs, attorney's fees, and an order that the Officer of the U.S. Attorney investigate his allegations for any criminal wrongdoing.

         The Court 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. This requirement applies to all prisoner filings regardless whether the prisoner pays the filing fee. Nicholson v. Lenczewski, 356 F.Supp.2d 157, 159 (D. Conn. 2005) (citing Carr v. Dvorin, 171 F.3d 115 (2d Cir. 1999) (per curiam)). Here, the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis.

         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. “A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         “Although courts must interpret a pro se complaint liberally, the complaint will be dismissed unless it includes sufficient factual allegations to meet the standard of facial plausibility.” See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         I. Allegations

         On April 20, 2018, the plaintiff was placed on Chronic Discipline status. Prison directives provide that an inmate may be removed from Chronic Discipline status if he remains disciplinary report free for 90 days. The plaintiff's last disciplinary report was issued on July 19, 2018, and he was released from Chronic Discipline status in October 2018. ECF No. 1. ¶ 20.

         On November 8, 2018, the plaintiff was transferred to Massachusetts under an interstate compact agreement. Id. On November 30, 2018, the plaintiff was returned to Connecticut to attend court. He was admitted to Hartford Correctional Center (“HCC”). Id., ¶ 21.

         Defendant Rivera is the unit manager of the restrictive housing units (“RHU”) at HCC. Id., ¶ 22. After the plaintiff was processed, defendant Rivera told him that he would be placed in a restrictive housing unit because of his Chronic Discipline status. In restrictive housing, the plaintiff would be unable to receive visits or social mail, would receive only one hour of recreation five days per week, would be permitted only three showers per week, and would be denied telephone access because of an outstanding disciplinary sanction. Id., ¶ 23. The plaintiff told defendant Rivera that he had been taken off Chronic Discipline status before he left Connecticut. The plaintiff also stated that, even if he had been on Chronic Discipline status, a new hearing would be required before he could be returned to Chronic Discipline status. Id., ¶ 24.

         Defendant Rivera stated that he, not the plaintiff, dictates treatment. Id., ¶ 25. The plaintiff was placed in RHU South Block, which housed inmates classified as Security Risk Group members, Special Needs, and Protective Custody. The plaintiff was denied rights and privileges he would have had in general population, such as social activities, exercise, visits, and communication. Id., ¶ 26.

         On December 3, 2018, a protective custody/security risk group inmate falsely accused the plaintiff of throwing urine on him through a secure and sealed door. The plaintiff and other inmates submitted written statements that the accusation was false. Id., ¶ 27. A lieutenant responded to the unit and stated that defendant Rivera had been contacted and ordered that the plaintiff be placed in segregation. After “some verbal controversy, ” the plaintiff was moved to the segregation unit. Id., ¶ 28.

         On December 5, 2018, defendant Rivera threatened the plaintiff with physical harm and reiterated his position that he dictated the plaintiff's life at HCC. Id., ¶ 29. The plaintiff submitted request forms to various administrators at HCC and requested preservation of video surveillance footage. Id., ¶ 30. Defendant Green came to the housing unit and told the plaintiff that he would receive no responses to his requests and that video surveillance footage would not be preserved. Id., ¶ 31.

         On December 7, 2018, defendant Rivera ordered the plaintiff to move to another cell in the segregation unit. The new cell had a crack in the exterior wall, exposing the interior of the cell to the elements. As it was winter, the new cell was very cold. The move was intended to harass the plaintiff. Id., ¶ 32. The plaintiff refused to move and asked to speak with a supervisor. Id., ¶ 33.

         Defendant Rivera threatened to deploy a chemical agent and beat the plaintiff over the head stating “you['re] going to learn you're my bitch today.” Id., ¶ 34. The plaintiff felt fearful and anxious. He decided to do what he could to prevent the defendant Rivera from using force against him. Id., ¶ 35. The plaintiff then stated that he agreed to be moved, but when defendant Rivera opened the trap in the cell door, the plaintiff threw a cup of cold water at defendant Rivera. The plaintiff assumed that defendant Rivera would then remove himself from the situation and have a different supervisor respond to the incident. Id., ¶ 36. But defendant Rivera did not remove himself and remained in command of the situation. Id., ¶ 37.

         The plaintiff then covered his window, believing this would cause other staff to respond and record the incident. Id., ¶ 38. Several officers responded and defendant Harris began to record the incident on a hand-held video-camera. Id., ¶ 39. Under defendant Rivera's supervision, the officers began planned use of force procedures. The plaintiff repeatedly stated that defendant Rivera had threatened him and that he only wanted a captain or administrator to come to the unit. None of the officers, including specifically defendant Harris, interceded to stop the procedures or called a supervisor. Id., ¶¶ 40-41.

         Defendant Rivera ordered the use force against the plaintiff. Id., ¶ 42. The plaintiff held his mattress against the trap and continued to request a supervisor. Id., ¶ 43. Defendant Rivera began to personally use force against the plaintiff in violation of prison directives. Id., ¶ 44. Defendant Rivera used the Barricade Obstruction Tool (“BOT”), a long metal cylindrical object designed to push aside obstructions and deploy a chemical agent. He deliberately and forcefully struck the plaintiff several times with the BOT. Id., ¶ 45.

         When a chemical agent was disbursed, the plaintiff stated that he was asthmatic and had a history of negative reactions to the chemical agent. Defendant Rivera denied this and deployed more of the chemical agent into the cell. Id., ¶ 46. He ignored the plaintiff's documented medical condition. Id., ¶ 47.

         Throughout the incident, the plaintiff stated that he feared defendant Rivera and would comply if a supervisor were present. Rather than intervening, defendant Harris encouraged defendant Rivera in the use of force. Id., ¶ 48. After being struck several times with the BOT, the plaintiff again requested a supervisor. Defendant Rivera denied the request saying, “You don't dictate here” and “You're gonna learn today.” He then continued to strike the plaintiff and deploy the chemical agent. Id., ¶ 49.

         The chemical agent finally overwhelmed the plaintiff causing him to leave the cell. Id., ¶ 51. The plaintiff submitted to restraints. Id., ¶ 52. Defendant Rivera ordered use of a safety veil which should only be utilized when there is an immediate threat of the inmate spitting at staff. Id., ¶ 53. The plaintiff alleges there was no such threat. Id. Because of the veil, the plaintiff could not be properly decontaminated. Id., ¶¶ 54-55. Defendant Rivera then ordered the plaintiff's placement in in-cell restraints consisting of handcuffs and shackles connected by a tether chain. The restraints were not necessary as the plaintiff remained calm and compliant. Id., ¶ 56. Defendant Rivera shortened the tether chain to cause the plaintiff discomfort and pain, an action expressly prohibited by correctional policy and procedures. He instructed the camera operator to hold the camera high so this action would not be recorded. Id., ¶ 57.

         The plaintiff remained in in-cell restraints for 24 hours. The cell did not have an operable toilet and the light remained on all day and night. The plaintiff experienced pain from the restraints and chemical agent. Id., ¶ 58. Defendant Harris conducted the required restraint checks. She refused to remove the restraints or permit medical staff to enter the cell to check the restraints. Id., ¶ 59. She also ordered the unit officers to falsify documents to indicate that the plaintiff was non-compliant. Id., ¶ 60.

         The plaintiff was removed from the restraints on December 8, 2018 and placed in the cell that was exposed to the elements. In addition to cold temperatures, the toilet did not flush, there was no running hot water in the sink, and the light remained on all day and night. The constant light was at defendant Rivera's order. Id., ¶ 61. The plaintiff submitted requests to the warden and administrative captain about the incidents and requested preservation of video surveillance recordings. Id., ¶ 62.

         On December 11, 2018, the plaintiff spoke with Warden Black when she toured the unit. He described the incidents and the refusal to process prior requests. Defendant Black stated that defendant Rivera and the other officers had her full support. Id., ¶ 63.

         On December 12, 2018, the plaintiff observed defendant Rivera use a chemical agent on inmate Jumpp. After removing inmate Jumpp from the cell, defendant Rivera had inmate Jumpp's cellmate moved to a different cell because the cell was contaminated with the chemical agent. Id., ¶ 64. Defendant Rivera then ordered the plaintiff to move to the contaminated cell. Id., ¶ 65.

         Again, the plaintiff refused to move and requested a supervisor. Lieutenant Fields responded. After the plaintiff explained the various issues asserted in this complaint, Lieutenant Fields said he would raise defendant Rivera's conduct with HCC administration but required the plaintiff to move to the contaminated cell. He did order that the plaintiff be given cleaning supplies to clean the cell. Id., ¶ 66. The plaintiff cleaned the cell even though he had no training for this type of cleaning and was not paid for cleaning his cell. Id., ¶ 67.

         On December 13, 2018, the plaintiff filed multiple grievances. Defendant Scheaffer, the Administrative Remedies Coordinator, came to the unit and told the plaintiff that she would not process any of his grievances because he would be returning to Massachusetts. Id., ¶ 68. The following day, the plaintiff complained to defendants Black and Green about denial of access to the grievance process. Id., ¶ 69. He again spoke with defendant Black on December 17, 2018. She said his complaints did not matter as he was “going back soon.” Id., ¶ 70.

         The plaintiff returned to Massachusetts on December 18, 2018. Id., ¶ 71. On January 3, 2019, the plaintiff returned to Connecticut for court. Again, he was housed at HCC. Id., ¶ 72.

         Defendant Rivera told the plaintiff that he would be held in segregation on Administrative Detention Status based on his “out of state status.” This is not a criterion for placement on Administrative Detention Status. The plaintiff believes this placement was intended for harassment. Id., second ¶ 72. The plaintiff had no telephone access, no recreation, no privileges, no access to religious practices and limited access to hygiene. The cell was dirty and cold with no window. There was no running hot water and the light remained on all day and night. Id., ¶ 73. The plaintiff was not afforded due process and was unable to appeal the placement. Id., ¶ 74.

         On January 4, 2019, the plaintiff tried to address his issues with defendant Black during her unit tour. She ignored him. Later that day, the plaintiff tried to address defendant Green. She told the plaintiff that, per defendant Black's instructions, only defendant Rivera is permitted to deal with him. Id., ¶ 75. The plaintiff was unable to speak with any correctional official during the time he remained in segregation. Id., ¶ 76.

         The plaintiff filed several grievances but received no receipts or responses. Id., ¶ 77. On January 15, 2019, defendant Rivera threatened the plaintiff for filing grievances, saying “No one is going to nay say me, stop filing grievances or I'll chain you [Plaintiff] up until you leave.” Id., ¶ 78.

         Later that day, the plaintiff had a visit with his attorney. Defendant Rivera escorted the plaintiff to the visit and cautioned him not to say anything. When defendant Rivera left the room, the plaintiff asked the officer present to speak with an administrator in the presence of his attorney regarding the threats and abuse by defendant Rivera. The officer agreed to call the administrative office. Id., ΒΆ 79. When the plaintiff left the visiting area at the end of his attorney visit, he was confronted by ...


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