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Hamlin v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

November 3, 2017

KYLE HAMLIN, Admr., etc. Plaintiff

          Sent to S.C. Reporter 12/12/17

          Christopher L. Bagi Eric A. Walker Peter E. DeMarco Assistant Attorneys General.



         {¶1} This cause came to be heard on a complaint brought by plaintiff as administrator of the estate of Brad Lee Hamlin (Hamlin). Plaintiff brings claims for negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, negligence, and wrongful death. Plaintiff alleges that defendant failed to protect Hamlin from harm while he was incarcerated at the Toledo Correctional Institution (TCI). On June 3, 2016, the court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs negligent hiring, retention, and supervision claim, as well as finding that to the extent defendant was negligent with respect to the decision to lower inmate assailant Lawrence Hensley's security classification, defendant is entitled to discretionary immunity and summary judgment on that issue. The issues of liability and damages were not bifurcated, and the case proceeded to trial on plaintiffs remaining claims on February 13-16, 2017.


         {¶2} At all relevant times, Hamlin was an inmate in the custody and control of defendant, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), at TCI, housed in the A3/4 East block. Hamlin was admitted to prison in July 2010 for burglary, and was serving a five-year sentence. Lawrence Hensley (Hensley) was incarcerated in 2000 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville, Ohio (SOCF) for the 1999 kidnapping and murder of three Bible study students and their teacher. He was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes. Ultimately, Hensley and Hamlin were assigned a Level 3 security classification, and were housed in the same cell block at TCI. There, on September 20, 2012, Hensley murdered Hamlin.

         {¶3} Plaintiff claims that ODRC was negligent in failing to follow its security and privilege level review policies. Although ODRC enjoys immunity for discretionary decisions related to inmate classification, plaintiff argues that ODRC can be liable for negligently failing to apply or follow its own developed guidelines and requirements. See Hughes v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 09AP-1052, 2010-Ohio-4736, ¶ 16; Frash v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 14AP-932, 2016-Ohio-360, ¶ 23. Here, plaintiff alleges ODRC ignored and/or deviated from its own guidelines resulting in a misclassification of Hensley, placing a dangerous inmate into a lower security classification and general population in a medium security prison to the risk of plaintiffs decedent.

         {¶4} The issues raised in this case required evidence and testimony about ODRC's security and privilege level classification policies, and the court discusses these policies below.

         I. ODRC's Inmate Classification Policies

         {¶5} ODRC separates inmates according to several risk factors and uses security and privilege classification to determine the appropriate security level for each inmate. "Appropriately classifying inmates is a means of protecting the public, ensuring staff safety, and achieving the Department's rehabilitative goals." (Plaintiff's Exhibit 4).

         {¶6} The court qualified Eugene Miller (Miller), a corrections professional, as plaintiff's expert witness. Miller testified to his experience working in law enforcement and corrections. (Plaintiff's Exhibit 44). Miller held a variety of roles within the corrections industry, including prison administrator and superintendent, professor of various corrections and public safety courses, and director of private companies supplying prison design and equipment. He testified that he has been a criminal justice consultant since 1973, and he has testified on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants in trials. Miller explained that security classification is important because it allows prison officials to try to predict future behavior, allocate resources within the corrections system, and provide appropriate supervision for inmates. Miller explained that in corrections, as a general rule, if an action is not documented then it did not happen.

         A. Security Classification Policy[1]

         {¶7} ODRC policy 53-CLS-01 governs the security review process, and its purpose is to "establish guidelines for the fair, uniform, and objective security classification of inmates of the [ODRC]." The security level classification ranges from Level 1 to Level 5. Each security level classification is detailed in ODRC policy 53-CLS-01, and are described below.

Security Level


Level 1A

The lowest security level in the classification system. Inmates

have the most privileges allowed.

Level 1B

The second lowest level in the classification system.

Level 2

A security level for inmates who are deemed in need of more

supervision than level 1, but less than Level 3.

Level 3

The security level that is the next degree higher than Level 2,

and requires more security/supervision than Level 2, but less

than Level 4.

Level 4

Level 4 is the security level for inmates whose security

classification score, at the time of placement, indicates a need

for very high security. It is also a classification for those who are

involved in, but not leading others, to commit violent, disruptive,

predatory, or riotous actions, and/or a threat to the security of

the institution as set forth in the Level 4 criteria.

Level 5

A security level for inmates who commit or lead others to commit

violent, disruptive, predatory, or riotous actions, and/or a threat

to the security of the institution as set forth in the Level 5 criteria.

(Plaintiffs Exhibit 4).

         {¶8} Based on ODRC policy, the factors to consider for security level reviews include, but are not limited to, history of assaultive behavior, age, escape history, enemies of record, gender, medical status, and mental and emotional stability. "The process shall consider behavior and such other objective factors as are available and relevant when assessing an inmate's institutional security needs." (Plaintiffs Exhibit 4). Each inmate is assigned an initial security classification upon entering ODRC's custody, and then receives an annual security review. The written security classification review process is carried out on, and supplemented by, review forms, and these policies and forms create the rules that ODRC employees are required to observe in carrying out security reviews.

         {¶9} When completing an annual security classification review, the reviewing committee begins by answering several questions on the first page of the form regarding the inmate's history and recent conduct. Each answer corresponds to a numerical score on the form, and the total score provides a suggested disposition for the inmate - either to increase, maintain, or decrease the inmate's security level. The human element of the inmate should be considered in an inmate's security review, and this is reflected in ODRC employees' ability to override the security classification form score based on knowledge of the individual inmate. If an override occurs, the "justification/basis for any override shall be documented on the [form]." (Plaintiffs Exhibit 4, p. 6). An override can occur if the inmate caused or attempted to cause serious physical harm to another.

         {¶10} Cynthia Davis, Unit Chief at SOCF, testified that she acted as the Warden's Designee for security and privilege reviews for many years, and that she is required to follow the applicable ODRC policies. She explained that security level reviews typically provide a twelve-month snapshot of an inmate's behavior. She stated, consistent with ODRC policy, that for a security level review, a committee makes a security level recommendation to her, and she approves or denies the recommendation. If she recommends a change to an inmate's security level, the decision gets referred to the Bureau of Classification for a final decision.

         {¶11} Related specifically to the security review process, Davis testified that the review centers on behavior over the last year, stability factors such as age, education, and job performance, and acts of violence or misconduct in the past five years. With respect to this five-year look back, she testified that reviewers do not always look back through the entire five-year period because if there is a violent act in the last twenty-four months, the inmate receives the maximum amount of points for this category. According to Davis, other violent acts that occurred outside this twenty-four-month period would not increase an inmate's score. She said that sometimes a case manager will note older violent acts, and the reviewers should look at more than just the inmate's score. While she usually agrees with the committee's score, she can exercise a discretionary override.

         B. Privilege Level Review Policy

         {¶12} Privilege level reviews are governed by 53-CLS-02 and these reviews operate similarly to security level reviews. (Plaintiff's Exhibit 2). However, privilege level reviews generally occur every six months. The privilege level policy in place from April 13, 2008 to October 18, 2012, did not provide for any special privilege level reviews. Id. However, the privilege level policy effective October 19, 2012, permitted special privilege level reviews on dates other than the scheduled six-month intervals. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 3, p. 3).

         {¶13} The purpose of privilege levels is to establish an incentive program based on an increased level of privileges for demonstrated appropriate inmate behavior and program compliance. Inmates can be assigned one of four privilege levels - 4A, 4B, 5A, or 5B. Privilege level 4A is the level with the most privileges, and 5B is the level with the least. An inmate classified as 4A is eligible, at the next security review, to be moved to a Level 3 inmate. The applicable prison warden/designee makes the final decision with respect to an inmate's privilege level.

         {¶14} Davis also has a role in privilege level reviews at SOCF. She testified that inmates are reviewed every six months, unless a special review is conducted. She makes the final privilege level decision, however the review process begins with the case manager. Davis testified that the case manager looks at the past six months of behavior and/or rules issues and why the inmate ended up at the current privilege level. However, she also testified that the form for privilege level reviews instructs the person filling out the form to consider the last five years of the inmate's conduct.

         {¶15} Dawn Frederick, ODRC employee and case manager for Hensley, testified that from 2007-2012 she saw Hensley almost daily. She handled security reviews, visitation, and served as a liaison between inmates and security. She explained that privilege level reviews allow the case manager to establish incentives based on an increased level of privilege. She testified that any staff member can request a special privilege level review for an inmate, and special privilege level reviews are more common for inmates with mental health issues because those inmates may do better in the prison setting with more freedom. She explained that this specifically applies in the Level 4A/4B setting because Level 4A inmates have less lock down time than Level 4B inmates.

         {¶16} Ed Sheldon was the Warden at TCI from 2011-2015, and has 28 years of experience in the Ohio corrections system. He testified that Level 4 inmates are housed by themselves for the safety of the inmates and staff. Further, Level 4B inmates' movement is restricted and they spend approximately 22 hours per day in their cells. Level 4A inmates have more time out of their cells, and they live in a structured environment with the ability to go to the dining room to eat, access the library, and participate in programming activities. While Level 4 inmates are restricted, Sheldon testified that Level 3 inmates have more freedom of movement and the ability to congregate.

         II. Lawrence Hensley

         {¶17} Davis testified that Hensley was a violent inmate in prison, and he entered the prison system at Level 4A because of his initial screening and the violent nature of his offenses. He was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of three Bible study students and their teacher. Hensley had a long and violent history while in the custody and control of ODRC. In April 2000, approximately six weeks after entry into the prison system, he was found guilty by the Rules Infraction Board (RIB) of assault with the intent to kill another inmate by beating the inmate with a can of chili stuffed into a sock. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 16). Six years later, in September 2006, he attempted to murder another inmate, repeatedly stabbing the inmate with a shank and stomping on his head and neck. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 18). Three years after that, in January 2009, Hensley poisoned two inmates and strangled one with a laundry bag cord resulting in two more guilty findings for attempted murder. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 21). Warden Sheldon testified on cross-examination that Hensley had a violent history and four attempts to murder inmates is consistent with a high security inmate.

         {¶18} Plaintiffs expert, Miller, characterized Hensley as a violent, maximum security inmate and Hensley should have exhibited at least five years of incident-free behavior before becoming eligible to become a Level 3 inmate. Further, he testified that the best predictor of future prison behavior is past prison behavior. In Hensley's case, Miller stated that the cumulative behavior and violent acts of Hensley show that he was not qualified to be a Level 3 inmate.

         III. Hensley's November 1, 2006 Special Security Classification Review (Plaintiffs Exhibit 19)

         {¶19} At the time of this security level review, Hensley was incarcerated at SOCF; a prison that housed Level 4A and 4B inmates. On September 15, 2006, Hensley was found guilty by SOCFs RIB of attempting to cause the death of another person and he received an override to Level 5. However, on October 27, 2006, at a special security level review, his security level was reduced from Level 5B to Level 4B per a mental health evaluation. Mental health staff believed that Hensley could be better managed and treated as a Level 4B at SOCF.

         {¶20} A review of Plaintiffs Exhibit 19 shows that Hensley's current conduct behavior was marked as poor, the lowest on the scale, meaning that he "continues to receive guilting findings by Rules Infraction Board on a periodic basis." Further, the "Reasons for the Warden/Designee's Recommendation" stated that Hensley "presents a serious threat to the safety and security of the institution."

         {¶21} Davis testified that the September 2006 attempted murder guilty finding resulted in Level 5 placement for Hensley, however his mental health status was listed at level C1, which corresponds with seriously mentally ill. Further, she stated that the security level override to Level 4B was appropriate due to Hensley's mental health.

         IV. Hensley's February 18, 2009 Annual Security Classification Review (Plaintiff's Exhibit 23)

         {¶22} Prior to this review, in January 2009, the RIB found Hensley guilty of poisoning two inmates and attempting to strangle one inmate to death. He also possessed a shank in his cell and said he intended to kill other inmates with the shank. These findings are listed on the first page of the security review form in the "Notes" section. Further, under "Level 1A Non-Discretionary Overrides, " the box next to "High notoriety case inmate" was checked. Based on this review, Hensley met the standard to be a Level 5 inmate, however an override of the score was recommended, and the form notes that Hensley "[d]oes not meet criteria for Level 5, " and he was assigned to Level 4B.

         {¶23} With respect to this security review, Davis testified that Hensley's attempted murder violation met the criteria for Level 5 placement, however Hensley was still categorized as seriously mentally ill, and thus was not eligible for Level 5 placement. Davis admitted that she did not write this information on the review form, but applied this information to place Hensley at Level 4B.[2]

         V. Hensley's February 1, 2011 Privilege Level Review (Plaintiffs Exhibit 29)

         {¶24} On February 1, 2011, a three-person privilege review committee met to conduct Hensley's regular six-month privilege level review. The committee noted that in February 2009, Hensley gave inmates a mixture of cool-aid, prescription medication, and water, and checked the box that stated he has poor behavior, the lowest level available. The committee also checked boxes detailing that Hensley had enrolled, but not completed programs, but participated and completed one program in August 2005. The committee recommended that Hensley be retained at Level 4B because he needed more adjustment due to poor behavior.

         {¶25} Davis testified that Hensley's conduct remained poor due to guilty RIB findings. In October 2010, Hamlin threw feces at four inmates and was guilty of a Rule 6 violation, which is an assault. With respect to the program information listed on this privilege review form, Davis testified that the program Hensley completed concluded six years before this review, and it was not necessarily appropriate to include this program on this privilege review.

         VI. Hensley's February 24, 2011 Special Privilege Level Review (Plaintiffs Exhibit 30)

         {¶26} On February 24, 2011, 23 days after his regular six-month privilege review, defendant conducted another privilege level review for Hensley. However, Frederick admitted that the regular privilege review was finalized on February 10, 2011, so there were only 14 days between the regular privilege review and the special privilege review. There is no explanation on the form of why this review was conducted shortly after Hensley's six-month privilege review. During this review, the committee noted Hensley's February 2009 attempted murder of two other inmates, but determined that his behavior was average because he had no aggressive/assaultive behavior in the last six months. The box was checked indicating that Hensley completed an August 2005 program, but there was no check mark indicating that Hensley enrolled, but did not complete programs. The committee determined that as of February 24, 2011, Hensley served sufficient time at Level 4B, and recommended release to Level 4A.

         {¶27} Frederick testified that she completed this special privilege review form, and it was at the discretion of the institution to do a special privilege review. However, she testified that she did not know who requested this specific special privilege review. On cross-examination, she stated that prison staff has to have some objective factor in the record to conduct a special privilege review. Some factors include good behavior and the mental health program available at Level 4A, and these factors have to form the basis for the decision to conduct a special privilege review. She explained that page three of the form is where the objective reason should be listed, but with respect to this special privilege review she does not know who asked for the review or ...

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