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White v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

December 4, 2017


          Sent to S.C. Reporter 1/5/18

          Christian White, #A301-910, Grafton Correctional Institution, Stacy L. Hannan Assistant Attorney General


          GARY PETERSON, Magistrate Judge

         {¶1} Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody and control of defendant, brought this action alleging that defendant's corrections officers used excessive force on him causing injury. The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated and the case proceeded to trial on the issue of liability.[1]

         {¶2} At trial, plaintiff testified that on the day of the incident, he was assigned to the B6 unit. According to plaintiff, he was at a table playing cards with other inmates when corrections officer Brooke Hassen approached the table. Plaintiff related that Hassen questioned the inmates at the table regarding who said a derogatory remark but that no one at the table had made any remark. Plaintiff testified that when Hassen returned 10 minutes later, the group of inmates "brushed her off and questioned why she was bothering them. Plaintiff reported that Hassen subsequently left.

         {¶3} Plaintiff testified that several hours later corrections officer Dan O'Flaherty escorted him to captain Lloyd Brownlee's office. According to plaintiff, after arriving at the captain's office, Brownlee asked Hassen whether plaintiff was the inmate who had "disrespected" her, but Hassen was "indecisive" and "unsure." Plaintiff testified that Brownlee subsequently ordered him to "get on the wall, " which means to face the wall, place his hands above his head on the wall, and prepare to be handcuffed, whereupon plaintiff asked why he was going to segregation even though he did not do anything wrong. Plaintiff acknowledged that Brownlee again ordered him to face the wall at which point he complied. Plaintiff reports that O'Flaherty grabbed his hands and cuffed him after which plaintiff turned his head around, looked over his shoulder, and complained that he was being sent to segregation despite Hassen being unable to identify plaintiff as the inmate who had disrespected her. Plaintiff testified that Brownlee thereafter jumped out of his chair and pushed his head back up against the wall.

         {¶4} Plaintiff testified that he suffered a cut above his eye and that he was subsequently escorted to medical where he received treatment. Plaintiff added, however, that he continued to be upset and that he requested that the cameras in the area of where the event occurred be reviewed. Plaintiff further added that while he was in segregation, Brownlee told him that he would be a witness to the events and that he would say that Hassen was "indecisive" regarding the identification of the inmate who made the remark.

         {¶5} Brooke Hassen testified that she has been a corrections officer at Grafton Correctional Institution for two years and that she held that same position on January 18, 2016, the date of the events giving rise to plaintiffs claim. Hassen testified that on that date she discovered that a group of inmates, including plaintiff, were at a table gambling and trading commissary. Hassen reported that she approached the table and asked the inmates what they were doing. According to Hassen, plaintiff told her to mind her own business and then added that she was mad because nobody was paying attention to her. Hassen reported that plaintiff also told her to "go back to your desk, bitch." Hassen stated that she thereafter went to Brownlee's office to review camera footage and verify plaintiffs identity.

         {¶6} Hassen testified that O'Flaherty escorted plaintiff to Brownlee's office. According to Hassen, after plaintiff arrived, she told Brownlee that plaintiff had disrespected her. Hassen testified that Brownlee ordered plaintiff to prepare to be handcuffed and that plaintiff, who did not immediately comply, was very upset. Hassen stated that plaintiff eventually complied, after several direct orders, and placed his hands on the wall above his head with his back toward the group. Hassen testified that plaintiff subsequently attempted to push himself off the wall and turn to face the group. Hassen asserted that Brownlee placed his hand on plaintiffs arm and pushed him back to the wall. Hassen reports that plaintiff thereafter complied with their orders. Hassen completed an incident report regarding the event.

         {¶7} Dan O'Flaherty testified that he has been a corrections officer for four years. O'Flaherty stated that he was ordered by Brownlee to escort plaintiff to his office and that plaintiff seemed upset while he was being escorted. According to O'Flaherty, Brownlee attempted to hear plaintiffs side of the story regarding the incident described above, but plaintiff was argumentative. As a result, Brownlee determined that plaintiff needed to be placed in segregation, at which point, Brownlee gave plaintiff a direct order to get on the wall. O'Flaherty testified that after three direct orders, plaintiff complied. O'Flaherty asserted that while plaintiff was facing the wall and while he was attempting to place handcuffs on him, plaintiff attempted to push himself off the wall and spin around. O'Flaherty added that plaintiff was not handcuffed at that time and that he only controlled one hand. O'Flaherty testified that Brownlee assisted in controlling plaintiff by using reactive force and taking control of plaintiffs other hand; plaintiff was subsequently handcuffed. O'Flaherty stated that thereafter plaintiff was bleeding from the forehead and, as a result, escorted to medical. O'Flaherty completed both an incident report and a conduct report regarding the event.

         {¶8} Lloyd Brownlee testified that he has worked as a correctional captain at Grafton Correctional Institution for the previous 20 years. Brownlee recalled that on January 18, 2016, he directed O'Flaherty to escort plaintiff to his office due to a derogatory comment plaintiff made to Hassen. Brownlee testified that when plaintiff arrived, he confronted plaintiff about calling Hassen a bitch. Brownlee reported that plaintiff was not loud or violent but continued to argue. Brownlee testified that he ordered plaintiff to get on the wall. According to Brownlee, while O'Flaherty was applying the handcuffs, plaintiff attempted to push himself away from the wall. Brownlee testified that he got up out of his chair and pushed plaintiff back to the wall. Brownlee added that he noticed a cut above plaintiffs eye after the incident. Brownlee denied touching plaintiffs head and did not know how plaintiff cut his head.

         {¶9} Corrections officer Bernard Johnson testified that he witnessed the exchange between plaintiff and Hassen that occurred on January 18, 2016. According to Johnson, plaintiff was playing cards when Hassen went to the table because she thought someone made a derogatory comment to her. Johnson asserted that plaintiff told her that nobody said anything to her. Johnson reported that Hassen left and thereafter returned and again inquired about the comment at which point plaintiff flung his identification across the table and said that she was simply mad because no one was paying attention to her. Johnson testified that plaintiff was escorted to Brownlee's office 10 minutes later.

         {¶10} "To recover on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (1) that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, (2) that a defendant breached that duty, and (3) that the breach of the duty proximately caused a plaintiffs injury." Ford v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 05AP-357, 2006-Ohio-2531, ¶ 10. "Ohio law imposes a duty of reasonable care upon the state to provide for its prisoners' health, care, and well-being." Ensman v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 06AP-592, 2006-Ohio-6788, ¶ 5.

         {¶11} In addition to stating a claim for negligence, allegations of unnecessary or excessive force being used against an inmate may state a claim for battery. Brown v. Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 13AP-804, 2014-Ohio-1810, ¶ 13. "To prove battery, the plaintiff must prove that the intentional contact by the defendant was harmful or offensive." Miller v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 12AP-12, 2012-Ohio-3382, ΒΆ 11. "A defendant may defeat a battery claim by establishing a ...

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