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James Clayton Solomon REG. #03633-063 v. Petray

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

May 30, 2017

JAMES CLAYTON SOLOMON REG. #03633-063 PLAINTIFF
v.
HUNTER PETRAY, Captain, Benton County Detention Center, DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. LEON HOLMES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a prisoner civil rights case which, unfortunately, took nearly seven years to get to trial. The day for trial finally came on May 22, 2017. All parties appeared and announced ready for a trial to the Court. After nearly three days of testimony, the case is ready for findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Having been convicted of a federal offense and served a term of imprisonment, in 2007 James Clayton Solomon was on supervised release in the jurisdiction of the Western District of Arkansas when he was charged with committing new crimes while under supervision. On January 7, 2008, United States District Judge Robert T. Dawson found that Solomon had violated the conditions of supervised release and sentenced him to five years in prison. United States v. Solomon, No. 2:07CR20009-RTD (Jan. 7, 2008) (Document #29). Judge Dawson allowed Solomon to self-report and gave him until April 2, 2008, to surrender at the Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his sentence. Id. On February 6, 2008, Solomon wrote a letter designed to suggest that he was committing suicide. He sent one copy of the letter to a local newspaper and another copy to Judge Dawson. On Judge Dawson's copy he wrote, "judge dawson, may you die a slow and painful death by a disease. You're not a god!" Solomon did not commit suicide. He absconded. He was later apprehended in California and returned to the Western District of Arkansas where he was placed in the custody of the United States Marshals Service and housed in the Benton County Detention Center, which contracted with the United States Marshals Service to house prisoners. Solomon was then indicted for failing to surrender for service of sentence in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 3146(a)(2) and (b)(1). United States v. Solomon, No. 2:08CR20029 JLH (Document #5). Solomon entered a guilty plea on May 23, 2008, before United States District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren. On October 10, 2008, Judge Hendren sentenced Solomon to a term of imprisonment of twenty-four months to run consecutive to the sentence in Case No. 2:07CR20009 and consecutive to sentences imposed in two different state court cases.

         Solomon commenced this action pro se by filing a handwritten complaint on August 31, 2010. He initially named as defendants the United States Marshals Service and twenty-four officers of the Benton County Detention Center. In an addendum to the complaint, he subsequently identified two Deputy United States Marshals, Susan Jones and Cory Thomas, as defendants. The complaint and addendum alleged that Solomon had been beaten by deputies at the Benton County Detention Center on two occasions, once in late April of 2008 and once in late August of 2008. He referred to the incident in April of 2008 as a "blanket party." He also alleged that he was tasered in the August incident.

         The two Deputy United States Marshals were named as defendants because, according to Solomon, they had conspired with the deputies at the Benton County Detention Center for him to be beaten as a result of writing a letter to Judge Hendren. Solomon also alleged that Thomas had used excessive force against him on a separate occasion.

         Eventually, Solomon's court-appointed counsel[1] filed a seven-count amended and supplemented complaint, which Solomon verified. Document #146. That complaint reiterated the essential facts alleged in Solomon's original complaint and addendum but did so with more clarity. The amended and supplemented complaint named as defendants Deputy United States Marshals Susan Jones and Cory Thomas, as well as the following officers of the Benton County Sheriffs Department: Sheriff Keith Ferguson, Sheriff Kelley Cradduck, Major Gene Drake, Captain Hunter Petray, Captain Robert Holly, Lieutenant Carter, Sergeant Robbins, Sergeant Torres, Sergeant Larry Vaughn, Sergeant Charles Tomlin, Deputy Fry, Deputy Carlton, Deputy Wright, Deputy Johnston, Deputy Roland, Deputy Rankin, Deputy Elkington, Deputy Lockhart, Deputy Strickland, Deputy Lowther, Deputy Morrison, Deputy Wales, Deputy Juan Hernandez, Deputy Duncan, Deputy Engleman, Deputy Randy Bryson, Deputy Reyes, and Deputy Christopher Johnson.[2] Sheriff Cradduck was named in his official capacity. All of the other defendants were named in their individual capacities.

         The first four counts were aimed at the Marshals. Count I alleged that Jones and Thomas retaliated against Solomon for writing an "unsavory letter to Judge Hendren." Count II alleged that the John Doe United States Marshals 1-5 retaliated against Solomon for writing the letter to Judge Hendren. Count III alleged that Jones and Thomas conspired with personnel of the Benton County Detention Center to cause the beating that he endured during the "blanket party" on May 19 or the early hours of May 20, 2008. Count IV alleged that Thomas used excessive force by striking an unprovoked blow to Solomon on or about April 25, 2008.

         The last three counts targeted the Benton County defendants. Count V alleged that Deputy Strickland, Sergeant Torres, Deputy Roland, Deputy Duncan, Deputy Bryson, and Sergeant Vaughn beat Solomon during the "blanket party" on May 19, 2008, or the early morning hours of May 20, 2008. Count VI alleged that Captain Petray, Captain Holly, Sergeant Robbins, Sergeant Torres, Sergeant Vaughn, Sergeant Tomlin, Deputy Fry, Deputy Carlton, Deputy Wright, Deputy Johnston, Deputy Roland, Deputy Rankin, Deputy Elkington, Deputy Lockhart, Deputy Strickland, Deputy Lowther, Deputy Morrison, Deputy Wales, Deputy Hernandez, Deputy Duncan, Deputy Engleman, Deputy Bryson, Deputy Reyes, and Deputy Johnson used excessive force against Solomon in August of 2008 when they entered Solomon's cell, beat him, and repeatedly tasered him. Count VII alleged that the officers of rank at the Benton County Detention Center failed to supervise and train the personnel of the Benton County Detention Center properly and fostered a custom whereby the use of excessive force was allowed and condoned.

         Solomon subsequently filed a motion stating that, after the completion of discovery and a review of all of the evidence exchanged, he was requesting that the Court dismiss his claims against Sheriff Cradduck, Captain Holly, Sergeant Robbins, Deputy Reyes, Sergeant Torres, Sergeant Tomlin, Deputy Fry, Deputy Carlton, Deputy Wright, Deputy Johnston, Deputy Rankin, Deputy Elkington, Deputy Lowther, Deputy Morrison, Deputy Engleman, Deputy Bryson, and Deputy Johnson. Document #193. The Court granted that motion and dismissed those defendants. Document #194.

         Also before trial, Solomon agreed that Count V, concerning the "blanket party, " should be dismissed as to Deputy Strickland, Deputy Duncan, and Sergeant Vaughn. The Court therefore granted summary judgment as to those three defendants on Count V. Document #213 at 2. Thus, when trial commenced, the only remaining Benton County defendant on Count V was Deputy Roland. Id.

         During the trial, near the completion of his case-in-chief, Solomon moved to dismiss his claims against the United States Marshals Service defendants. That motion was granted and those claims were dismissed with prejudice. Document #261. Solomon also dismissed his claims against Deputy Roland and Deputy Duncan[3] during the trial. Document #260. Deputy Roland had been the remaining named defendant on Count V, which alleged the beating during the "blanket party." With his dismissal, no defendants remained in that count.

         After all of the dismissals described above, the remaining defendants were Sheriff Ferguson, Major Drake, Captain Petray, Lieutenant Carter, Sergeant Vaughn, Deputy Lockhart, Deputy Strickland, Deputy Wales, and Deputy Hernandez. The remaining counts were Count VI, which alleged excessive force in August of 2008, and Count VII, which alleged a custom or practice of allowing or condoning excessive force at the Benton County Detention Center, as well as a failure to train and supervise the Benton County Detention Center personnel.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         On August 22, 2008, Captain Hunter Petray, the jail administrator at the Benton County Detention Center, assembled a specialized emergency response team, which the defendants called the SERT team, for an operation in the section of the detention center where Solomon was housed. The SERT team is the jailhouse version of a riot squad or a SWAT team. The members of the team received special training and wore additional protective gear so they could enter a pod and quickly gain control of inmates without suffering injury. When inmates and their cells needed to be searched for contraband, a SERT team would be deployed.

         Captain Petray's decision to assemble the SERT team on August 22, 2008, was precipitated by some inmates in the section of the detention center where Solomon was housed flooding their cells, apparently by stopping their toilets or breaking sprinkler heads. According to Petray, inmates would take advantage of shift changes to gain extra rolls of toilet paper or clothing. They would report to an officer on duty during one shift that they were out of toilet paper or "whites" and, when the shift change came, would reiterate the request for additional toilet paper or whites. Those additional items would be hidden and used at a later time to plug the drain in the toilet, which would cause flooding in the pod.

         Because the officers had been unable to determine which inmates were causing the flooding, the SERT team was assembled to go into the cells in the affected area, search the inmates and their cells, seize any contraband found, and order inmates who had plugged their toilets to clean the area.

         The team assembled on August 22 included Sergeant Larry Vaughn, Sergeant James Jessen, Corporal Christopher Lockhart, Deputy Charles Strickland, Deputy Chad Wales, Deputy Frischman, Deputy Michael Charles Dowdle, and Deputy Juan Hernandez. After being briefed, they assembled outside the area where the operation was to occur and divided into teams of two. Frischman and Hernandez went to cell 220 of Pod E-102, where Solomon was housed. Cell 220 was on the second floor of the pod with a landing or mezzanine, bounded by rails, outside the door to the cell.

         Frischman and Hernandez ordered Solomon to get on his knees and put his hands on the wall. He complied with all of the orders that they gave. They searched the ...


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