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Mills v. Smith

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

March 3, 2017

JERRY WAYNE MILLS PLAINTIFF
v.
SHERIFF STEVEN SMITH and JAIL ADMINISTRATOR DAVID SPICER DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This is a civil rights action filed by Plaintiff, Jerry Wayne Mills, pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis and is currently incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (“ADC”), Varner Unit.

         The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. (Doc. 13) Pursuant to this authority, the Court held a bench trial on April 26, 2016, and it now issues the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his original Complaint on February 5, 2014. (Doc. 1) He alleges he was injured by a loose bunk in his jail cell on January 26, 2014 and February 11, 2014. The events that are the subject of this lawsuit occurred while Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Logan County Detention Center (“LCDC”) in Paris, Arkansas. Plaintiff was permitted to file two Complaint Supplements on March 4, 2014. (Docs. 19, 20)

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. He also seeks to have the jail brought up to code and a credible grievance system implemented. (Doc. 1, p. 7)

         After summary judgment proceedings, the issues remaining for bench trial include: (1) whether overcrowding in the cell meant the loose bunk posed a substantial risk of serious harm to inmates in the cell; (2) whether the bunk fell on Plaintiff or whether he was injured trying to make it fall; and, (3) if the bunk did constitute a serious risk of harm, whether Defendants' actions constituted deliberate indifference. (Doc. 35, p. 12)

         At the bench trial, the testimony of the following witnesses was heard on behalf of Plaintiff: (1) Colton Lovelace, by videoconference from the Federal Bureau of Prisons Oklahoma City Transfer Center; and, (2) Plaintiff. The testimony of the following witnesses was heard on behalf of Defendants: (1) Defendant Sheriff Steven Smith; (2) Defendant Jail Administrator David Spicer; and, (3) former LCDC Correctional Officer Dustin Stark. (Doc. 50)

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         The Inmate Riot

         At the summary judgment hearing, Plaintiff testified that on approximately January 20, 2014, there was an inmate riot in the LCDC. A bunk was ripped off the wall in cell seven and used to break down a cell door. A small fire was lit, but quickly put out with fire extinguishers. Lights and the air conditioning were broken. (Tr.[1] 22-23)

         In cell six, where Plaintiff was eventually injured, a large inmate (weighing approximately 300 pounds) had jumped on the upper bunk in an attempt to rip it from the wall during the riot. (Tr. 13) The large inmate was removed from the cell, and Plaintiff was moved into it. (Tr. 17) Plaintiff testified that the bunk was sagging and tipping down at a forty-five degree angle when he was put into the cell.

         Defendant Spicer testified the inmates caused considerable damage to the LCDC during the riot. Over several months, there was “a lot of unruliness.” Cameras were vandalized. There were some leaks in the toilets due to age, but the inmates also stuffed their uniforms down the toilets. The “beanholes”[2] constantly had problems due to having things stuffed into them to prevent them from being closed. The inmates used the beanholes to pass things to other cells and to turn the lights on and off. Defendant Spicer believed it was in cell seven that inmates ripped a bunk off the wall and used it to knock the cell door off the hinges.

         Dustin Stark testified it was “rough” for about three weeks. Inmates were breaking things, flooding toilets, breaking the plastic windows in cells, throwing plates in the hallways, etc. He testified he was almost stabbed by an inmate.

         Based on this testimony, I find that the LCDC had sustained considerable and ongoing facilities damage from inmates just prior to Plaintiff's two bunk-related injuries.

         Cell Dimensions

         Plaintiff testified the cell is about eight feet by ten feet (8' x 10') in dimension. Colton Lovelace could not recall the dimensions of the cell. Defendant Smith testified this was intended to be a two person cell.

         1 find there is no dispute that cell six was intended to be a two person cell, and was approximately eight feet by ten feet (8' x 10') in size.

         Structure of the Bunks

         There is also no dispute that there were two bunks in cell six. The bottom bunk is concrete and the upper bunk is metal. The concrete bunk is placed in the wall about two feet above the floor. The upper metal bunk is anchored into the wall above the concrete bunk. According to Defendant Smith, the metal bunks are attached at four points to the wall, with bolts both above and below the horizontal section of the bunk.

         Plaintiff testified there was also a metal “schedule 40” support pole for the top bunk, which was loose. Defendant Smith did not remember any posts or poles missing, and he noted all of the bunks in the LCDC had been repaired and modified in some way - some more than once. No one other than ...


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