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Stephens v. Helder

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

June 19, 2017

JOSHUA JOHN STEPHENS PLAINTIFF
v.
SHERIFF HELDER, Washington County, Arkansas; MAJOR DENZER, Washington County Detention Center WCDC; LT. FOSTER, WCDC; SERGEANT GARDNER, WCDC; JOHN AND JANE DOE CAPTAIN, SHIFT LIEUTENANT, and SHIFT SERGEANT; SHEILA SHARP, Director, Arkansas Community Correction ACC; KEVIN MURPHY, Chief Deputy Director, ACC; ACC SUPERVISOR HOGG; ACC SUPERVISOR TRACY CREWS; ACC OFFICER K. WEST; ACC OFFICER EGLIN; ACC OFFICER T.J. SPENCER; ACC OFFICER PENGUITE; ACC SUBSTANCE ABUSE COUNSELOR CAROLINE F.; JOHN AND JANE DOE ACC CORRECTIONS STAFF; WASHINGTON COUNTY PROBATION AND PAROLE OFFICER K. WEST; SPRINGDALE POLICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF MIKE PETERS SPD; OFFICER HIGNIGHT, SPD; OFFICER MERCADO, SPD; and JOHN AND JANE DOE CAPTAIN, SHIFT LIEUTENANT, and SHIFT SERGEANT DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS JUDGE.

         This is a civil rights action filed by Plaintiff Joshua John Stephens, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Stephens proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis. The matter is presently before the Court for initial screening of his Complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that this action should be summarily dismissed pursuant to Section 1915A and Section 1915(e)(2)(B).

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the allegations of the Complaint, on December 19, 2016, Stephens reported to Arkansas Community Correction ("ACC"), [1] and there encountered Parole Officers Spencer, Eglin, West, as well as an unknown training officer. Stephens states that he reported to these officers his substance abuse problem and his need for professional help for both substance abuse and mental health issues. He alleges that West denied his request for help and then "sanctioned [him] to jail." (Doc. 1, p. 20).

         Stephens recounts that while he was being transported to the Washington County Detention Center ("WCDC"), Officer Eglin allegedly advised him that residential treatment was not within the powers of the ACC. Stephens claims he will present numerous witnesses to establish that Officer Elgin was wrong about that, as Stephens believes that parolees under the supervision of the ACC are often afforded the opportunity to attend residential treatment. Stephens asserts that the ACC Defendants ordered him to jail despite knowledge of his two previous overdoses, which "showed Deliberate Indifference toward the Plaintiff" in violation of the "14th and 8th Amendments just to name a few." Id. at 20-21. Stephens further alleges that on several other occasions, ACC Supervisor Tracy Crews demonstrated personal disdain and dislike for both Stephens and his father. Stephens maintains that Crews' attitude toward him demonstrates a lack of adherence to ACC policies and procedures, as well as an inability to have an unbiased attitude.

         The Complaint goes on to state that on January 20, 2017, Parole Officer West told Stephens that his recent urine sample had tested positive for drugs, and this violation, coupled with Stephens' failure to pay his supervision fees, would result in him being incarcerated once again. Stephens and West then visited Caroline F., the ACC substance abuse counselor. According to Stephens, Caroline F. Told him that he would be allowed into a substance abuse class because he appeared to be on methamphetamine. He disagreed with her about his methamphetamine use, and then claims he asked West for a "grievance procedure"-presumably so that he could complain about Caroline F.'s decision to put him in a substance abuse class. Officer West did not respond to Stephens' request for the grievance procedure. Instead, West escorted Stephens to his car in the parking lot. Stephens questions why, if he was supposedly under the influence of drugs, Officer West and Caroline F. allowed him to drive away from the ACC office. Stephens thinks that he should have been treated as impaired, and the failure to treat him as such showed a deliberate indifference to his safety. He also contends that West's failure to provide him with the grievance procedure violated his "1st Amendment rights along with others." Id. at 19.

         On February 1, 2017, ACC Parole Officers Eglin, Spencer, and Penguite, and Springdale Police Department ("SPD") Officers Hignight and Mercado went to Stephens1 residence at 659 Daisy Lane in Springdale, Arkansas, to arrest him for a parole violation. According to Stephens, the "white warrant" that had been issued for his arrest was for possession of firearms. Stephens believes the basis for the warrant was invalid. He maintains that he did not possess any firearms. Rather, he argues that the Daisy Lane residence where he was staying belonged to Marty and Terri Stephens, and the firearms that were discovered there were not his, but either theirs or someone else's. Stephens contends that when the officers searched the residence, they found firearms in areas that were "unaccessable [sic] to myself." Id. at 11. Further, Stephens claims that Officer Hignight of the SPD informed him that he was not being charged with possession of the firearms but was being transported to the WCDC on the basis of warrants stemming from prior traffic violations. Id.

         Stephens maintains that on February 2, 2017, ACC Officer West sent a violation report to the Parole Board that contained false statements, namely, that Stephens had, been arrested and booked on felony charges and was incarcerated pending trial. Stephens alleges that ACC Officers West, Spencer, and Eglin, under the supervision of Crews, knowingly violated his due process rights, as well as his right to trial by an impartial jury, by submitting that "false" violation report to the Parole Board, which in turn subjected Stephens to "cruel and unusual punishment." Id. at 14.

         On February 9, 2017, Stephens alleges that the parole violation report was sent back "with the intention to violate the Plaintiff and send him to prison under the assumption that the information in said violation report was accurate and without bias." Id. at 14. He asserts that the ACC officers, under the supervision of Crews, then coerced the SPD officers to arrest Stephens and deprive him of due process, subject him to an unreasonable search and seizure, and violate his right to equal protection under the law. Id. at 13-14.

         It appears that, according to the facts in the Complaint, Stephens was, indeed, arrested on a parole violation, entered WCDC custody, and attempted at some point to secure his own release, perhaps on bond. He recounts that before he obtained his release from the WCDC, Officer West put "a hold" on him, "[n]ot enabling [him] to leave." Id. at 12. Stephens claims that members of his family had been in touch with the SPD and the ACC prior to this time and had understood that he was not being charged with a weapons violation. However, on February 16, 2017, "15 days after being arrested, " he was charged with possession of firearms, and he was fingerprinted and booked. Id. Stephens believes that charging him with a firearms offense violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. He further believes that the following Defendants are also to blame for violating his constitutional rights with respect to this incident: SPD Chief Peters, the John Doe Lieutenant on duty at the time Stephens was formally charged and fingerprinted, the John Doe Sergeant on duty, and SPD Officers Hignight and Mercado. Id. at17.

         Next, the Complaint alleges that between the dates of February 1, 2017, and February 16, 2017, ACC Officers Spencer, Penguite, and Eglin, and SPD officer Hignight violated Stephens' right to due process and to an impartial jury by knowingly and intentionally "doctoring and falsifying official reports with the intention to violate said rights of the Plaintiff and send him to prison." Id. at 23. Stephens maintains the probation violation reports of the SPD and the ACC were "conflicting in nature demonstrating deliberate indifference and violating the Equal Protection of the Plaintiff as outlined in the constitution of the United States of America." Id. He further alleges that the ACC officials violated "confiscation protocol" by bringing the firearms that were the subject of the weapons-possession charge against him to the Washington County Probation and Parole Office. Stephens asserts that the ACC Defendants did not follow protocol in regards to the chain of custody of evidence, which violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Id. at 24.

         On February 23, 2017, after Stephens was incarcerated in the WCDC, he claims he submitted a grievance through the pod kiosk system. His grievance described how certain ACC officials allegedly violated his constitutional rights. In Stephens' view, Sergeant Gardner of the WCDC "responded [to the grievance] with a retaliatory statement saying any more gr[ie]vances would be flagged as abuse." Id. at 24. Stephens understood Gardner's response to mean that he "could face disciplinary action for exercising his 1st Amendment right. . . utilizing the only outlet available to him"-the WCDC's grievance system. Id. Stephens therefore maintains that Officer Gardner's response to his grievance violated his constitutional rights, in that Officer Gardner failed to substantively respond to the grievance and then threatened to retaliate against Stephens for exercising his right to "speak" through the grievance process.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the PLRA, the Court is obligated to screen a case prior to the issuance of service of process. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion of it, if it contains claims that: (a) are frivolous or malicious; (b) fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (c) seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §1915A(b).

         A claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "In evaluating whether a pro se plaintiff has asserted sufficient facts to state a claim, we hold 'a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, ... to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Jackson v. Nixon, 747 F.3d 537, 541 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Section 1983 provides a federal cause of action for the deprivation, under color of law, of a citizen's "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant acted under color of state law and violated a right secured by the Constitution. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988); Dunham v. Wadley, 195F.3d 1007, 1009 (8th Cir. 1999). The deprivation must be intentional; mere negligence will not suffice to state a claim for deprivation of a constitutional right under Section 1983. Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986); Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344 (1986).

         A. Personal-Capacity Claims Against Certain Defendants

         Stephens emphasizes in his Complaint that he means to sue all Defendants in their personal capacities, but only some Defendants in their official capacities. In particular, he states several times in his Complaint that he means to sue the ACC Defendants in their personal capacities only, but the SPC and WCDC Defendants in both their official and personal capacities. As the Supreme Court explained in Hafer v. Melo,502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991), "[s]uits against state officials in their official capacity... should be treated as suits against the State .... [b]ecause the real party in interest in an official-capacity suit is the governmental entity and not the named official" Accordingly, an official-capacity claim asserts that a governmental entity's official policy or custom played a part in the violation of federal ...


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