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Benway v. Aldi

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 29, 2019

JOHN ALDI, et al., Defendants.



         On February 11, 2019, Brenden Benway (“Plaintiff”), then-incarcerated by the State of Connecticut at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution (“Corrigan”) in Uncasville, Connecticut, sued ten Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials in their individual and official capacities: Security Risk Group Coordinator John Aldi, Warden Stephen Faucher, Lieutenant Russell, Hearing Officer King, Corrections Officer Campbell, Lieutenant Kelly, Disciplinary Investigator John Doe, Lieutenant Roberts, Lieutenant Hartley, and Disciplinary Report Investigator Acevedo, alleging multiple violations of his civil and constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Complaint, ECF No. 1 (Feb. 11, 2019) (“Compl.”).

         Since the Complaint was filed, Mr. Benway has twice moved for leave to amend his Complaint. Motion for Leave to Amend, ECF No. 8 (Feb. 21, 2019) (“First Mot. To Amend”); Motion for Leave to Amend, ECF No. 11 (Mar. 14, 2019) (“Second Mot. To Amend”).

         On April 21, 2019, Mr. Benway notified the Court of his imminent release from Corrigan. Notice of Change of Address, ECF No. 12 (Apr. 30, 2019).

         On April 30, 2019, Mr. Benway was released from state custody.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS Mr. Benway’s motions to amend his Complaint, DISMISSES his claims for injunctive and declaratory relief as moot, and DISMISSES his claims concerning excessive force, retaliation, and religious freedom, without prejudice to re-filing, as they were improperly joined.

         But the Court will permit Mr. Benway’s First Amendment free speech claim and Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claims to proceed against Corrections Officer Campbell, Lieutenant Russell, and Hearing Officer King in their individual capacities for damages, as well as Mr. Benway’s Fourteenth Amendment conditions of confinement claim to proceed against Lieutenant Kelly in that officer’s individual capacity for damages.


         A. Factual Background

         In March of 2016, Corrections Officers Campbell and Russell allegedly brought Mr. Benway, who had been confined at the New Haven Correctional Center as a pretrial detainee, to the Restrictive Housing Unit without notice.[1] Compl. at 6. Id. The officers allegedly told him that they brought him there because they had found gang-related photographs and colors on his Facebook page. Id.

         Mr. Benway allegedly told the officers that the content of his Facebook page was protected speech under the First Amendment, but the officers allegedly dismissed him, saying, “What do you think you are, a lawyer?” Id. Officer Campbell allegedly told Mr. Benway that the DOC has a contract with Facebook, that the page content added three points to his Security Risk Group point system scale, and that his tattoos added another two points to his scale. Id. Mr. Benway allegedly remained in the Restricted Housing Unit for six days without a disciplinary report or a hearing issued on his security risk group classification. Id.

         While allegedly confined in the Restricted Housing Unit, Disciplinary Report Investigator Doe allegedly came to Mr. Benway’s cell and allegedly told him that he was not going to “beat the SRG affiliation” because there was significant proof of gang activity on his Facebook page. Compl. at 7. When Mr. Benway allegedly asked Doe how he could be confined in the Restricted Housing Unit without a disciplinary report, Investigator Doe allegedly replied that the content of Mr. Benway’s Facebook page was enough. Id.

         Several days later, Mr. Benway allegedly was woken up and allegedly told that he had to attend a hearing on his Security Risk Group affiliation. Compl. at 7. During the hearing, Lieutenant Russell allegedly presented two options: sign a statement indicating he is a gang member or lose between sixty and ninety days of commissary, phone, mail, and visitation privileges. Id. Mr. Benway allegedly signed the statement to avoid the sanctions. Id. Lieutenant Russell and Hearing Officer King allegedly did not permit Mr. Benway to give an oral statement to explain the content of his Facebook page. Id. The signed statement allegedly meant Mr. Benway was designated as a member of the Bloods gang and sent to Phase 3 of the Department of Correction’s Security Risk Group program at Corrigan. Id. at 8.

         While allegedly confined, Mr. Benway allegedly reviewed the Department of Correction’s Administrative Directives regarding Security Risk Group affiliation and penal discipline. Compl. at 8. Nothing in those directives allegedly gave Campbell, Russell, King, or any Department of Correction official the authority to place him in the restricted housing unit based on the content of his Facebook page. Id.

         In April 2016, Mr. Benway allegedly wrote a letter to Security Risk Group Coordinator Aldi discussing the circumstances of his confinement. He allegedly never received a response. Compl. at 8. He also allegedly obtained his disciplinary report history, which allegedly revealed he received no disciplinary reports between 2016 and 2017. Id.

         Confinement in the Security Risk Group allegedly had mental and physical repercussions. Mr. Benway allegedly could not receive good time credits, had limited visitation and phone privileges, could not participate in any vocational, religious, or educational programs, and had no access to a library. Compl. at 9, 12-13. He allegedly was forced to remain in his cell more than general population inmates and allegedly had limited recreation time. Id. at 9. Inmates in the Security Risk Group allegedly do not receive jackets during outside recreation. Id. at 10. When there is a lockdown due to a security issue, inmates allegedly are confined in their cells for days, without the ability to shower and their commissary privileges are reduced. Id.

         Cell conditions allegedly were sub-standard. The unit allegedly did not have heat or hot water. Id. at 10-11. Mr. Benway’s toilet allegedly smelled of feces and the sink in his cell allegedly was clogged. Id. at 10. Garbage allegedly accumulated for more than eight hours at a time, attracting flies and creating an unsanitary environment. Id. at 10-11. Because there are allegedly no congregate meals in SRG, Mr. Benway allegedly was forced to eat meals in these conditions. Id. at 10. Inmates in the Security Risk Group allegedly are allowed to clean their cells once a week. Id. at 11. Mr. Benway allegedly suffered from sleep deprivation and allegedly shook constantly because of these conditions. Compl. at 11.

         He allegedly spoke with Lieutenant Kelly, the unit manager, about these conditions, but Lieutenant Kelly allegedly just “brush[ed] [him] off” and allegedly told him not to come to jail. Id. at 12. Mr. Benway alleges that Coordinator Aldi illegally designates pretrial detainees as gang members in order to keep the Security Risk Group program in place and generate more money for the Department of Corrections. Id. at 13. When he allegedly re-entered Department of Corrections custody in October 2018, Mr. Benway allegedly was forced to remain in segregation, until he could be transferred back to the Security Risk Group unit at Corrigan. Id. at 14.

         On November 12, 2018, while allegedly housed in the Restrictive Housing Unit at New Haven Correctional Center, there allegedly was an incident between Corrections Officer Doe and Lieutenant Roberts and Mr. Benway’s cellmate regarding something covering the cell window. The officers allegedly asked the cellmate to remove the covering and the cellmate did not respond. Compl. at 25. Mr. Benway allegedly encouraged his cellmate to remove the window covering and allegedly informed the officers he had nothing to do with it. Id. After the cellmate allegedly ignored a second verbal request, Officer Doe allegedly opened the trap door and sprayed chemical agent into the cell. It allegedly hit Mr. Benway in the face, as he was using the toilet. Id.

         Mr. Benway allegedly suffered an asthma attack and the officers allegedly pulled him out of the cell. Id. The officers allegedly placed Mr. Benway, who was still struggling to breathe, in a separate room. Id. The officers allegedly retrieved a video camera and Mr. Benway allegedly stated on film that the covering was not his fault. Id.

         The next part of the incident allegedly was not recorded. The officers allegedly then placed Mr. Benway’s head under running water. Compl. at 26. Mr. Benway allegedly yelled and said that he was drowning and could not breathe. Id. Lieutenant Roberts allegedly said that would be fine. Id. After all of this, the officers allegedly returned Mr. Benway to the same cell, despite the fact that it was still hard to breathe inside the cell. Id. Officer Doe allegedly informed Mr. Benway and his cellmate that they would each receive a disciplinary report for the incident. Id. Mr. Benway’s cellmate again allegedly protested that Mr. Benway had nothing to do with the incident, but Officer Doe allegedly said that Lieutenants Roberts and Hartley ordered a disciplinary report for both inmates. Id. Officer Doe allegedly told Mr. Benway to take up his issue with the lieutenant. Id.

         On December 28, 2018, Corrections Officer Silver allegedly began threatening Mr. Benway and spitting at his cell door. Compl. at 27. When Mr. Benway allegedly told Officer Silver that he could not talk to him that way, Officer Silver allegedly began “using obscene and vulgar language.” Id. Mr. Benway allegedly informed a lieutenant of Officer Silver’s actions and the lieutenant allegedly answered, “I can care less about anything a [correction officer] said to a[n] inmate.” Id. Mr. Benway allegedly wrote requests and grievances about Silver’s behavior. Id. Since then, other Department of Corrections officials allegedly have “targeted” him. Id.

         On January 2, 2019, Mr. Benway allegedly was housed in the E-Pod Security Risk Group unit, but was brought to the Restricted Housing Unit in B-Pod for a Class-A disciplinary report. Compl. at 16. He allegedly wrote to Lieutenant Kelly, the supervisor of the E-Pod Unit, explaining that he did not feel safe in the B-Pod unit because of other gang members housed there. Id. One week later, while in the shower, he allegedly told Corrections Officer Melton that he was scared to go back to the B-Pod unit because of problems he had outside of prison. Id. The officer allegedly ignored Mr. Benway and placed him in the B-Pod. Id.

         On January 10, 2019, Mr. Benway allegedly wrote to Warden Faucher, regarding his safety at Corrigan. Compl. at 16. He allegedly never received a response. Id. Mr. Benway allegedly fears for his life and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Id. Gang members in the unit allegedly often force inmates to either join their gang or be assaulted. Id.

         On January 25, 2019, Lieutenant Bellevue allegedly woke up Mr. Benway and brought him to the medical unit. Compl. at 28. Officials allegedly asked Mr. Benway “if anything sexual happened to him.” Id. Mr. Benway allegedly said no, and Lieutenant Bellevue then allegedly showed him a handwritten letter. Id. It allegedly stated that Patrick Lexis, Mr. Benway’s cellmate, had sexually assaulted him and that Mr. Benway was going to harm himself. Id. Mr. Benway allegedly stated that he was never sexually assaulted and that he did not write the letter. Id. Officials allegedly brought him back to his cell. Id. Mr. Benway alleges that another inmate, who apparently does not like him, wrote the letter. Id.

         On the evening of February 15, 2019, Corrections Officer Conroy allegedly searched Mr. Benway’s cell. Second Mot. to Amend at 2. Approximately one hour later, Officers Mercado and Hill allegedly came by the cell to perform another search. Id. When they opened the cell door, Lexis, the cellmate, allegedly told them that a search had already been performed one hour earlier. Id. Officer Mercado allegedly then stated, “Want to help [inmates] with lawsuits? [T]his is what happens.” Id. As he was leaving the cell for the search, Mr. Benway allegedly told the officers that he had legal mail in the cell and that the officers could not read it. Id. Officer Conroy allegedly told him that he was the officer, and “he does what he wants.” Id.

         The cell allegedly was in complete disarray after the search. Id. at 2. His paperwork, including his legal mail and copies of Department of Corrections Administrative Directives, allegedly were all over the floor. Id. Some of his property, including his Qur’an and prayer beads, allegedly had been damaged. Id. Mr. Benway allegedly complained to Officers Conroy and Mercado, and Conroy allegedly just told him to “write it up.” Id. at 2-3.

         Later that day, Mr. Benway allegedly wrote a letter to the unit manager about what had happened during the cell search. Compl. at 3. He also allegedly wrote a Freedom of Information request for surveillance video footage of the search. Id.

         B. Procedural Background

         On February 11, 2019 Mr. Benway sued Security Risk Group Coordinator John Aldi, Warden Stephen Faucher, Lieutenant Russell, Hearing Officer King, Corrections Officer Campbell, Lieutenant Kelly, Disciplinary Investigator John Doe, Lieutenant Roberts, Lieutenant Hartley, and Disciplinary Report investigator Acevedo, alleging violations of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Compl. at 1-3, 20-22.

         On February 21, 2019, Mr. Benway filed a motion to amend, adding four relevant exhibits. First Mot. To Amend.

         On March 14, 2019, Mr. Benway filed a second motion to amend claiming defendants Mercado, Conroy, and Hill retaliated against him for filing lawsuits against the Department of Corrections, damaged personal property, and interfered with his ability to freely exercise his religion violating ...

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