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McKinley v. Trattles

decided: April 23, 1984.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 81 C 73 -- John C. Shabaz, Judge.

Wood and Cudahy, Circuit Judges, and Campbell, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Cudahy

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.

This case requires us to apply the standards for awards of punitive damages in civil rights cases announced last year in Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 103 S. Ct. 1625, 75 L. Ed. 2d 632 (1983). A jury here awarded plaintiff LaRon McKinley $15,000 in punitive damages from defendant Michael Hammer for conducting a strip search in an unconstitutional manner. The district court, on Hammer's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, overruled the jury's award, but refused to overrule the jury's finding of liability or to grant a new trial on the liability issue. McKinley appeals the finding that he was not entitled to punitive damages and Hammer appeals the denial of the remainder of his post trial motion. For the reasons detailed below, we reinstate the jury's award of punitive damages, subject to a remittitur, and we affirm the district court's denial of the remainder of Hammer's post trial motion.

I. Background

Before a prisoner confined in the Adjustment Center at the Wisconsin State Prison at Waupun, Wisconsin ("Waupun"), is returned to his cell, a strip search is conducted to determine if the inmate is carrying contraband. Thus, when McKinley, a Waupun inmate held in the Adjustment Center for disciplinary violations, returned to the Center from a disciplinary hearing, he was forced to undergo a strip search which included an inspection of his anal cavity. McKinley subsequently filed a civil rights complaint alleging that he was forced to undergo two strip searches and that those strip searches were conducted unreasonably, in violation of his constitutional rights. He also alleged that the use of the chemical spray, mace, during the searches was unconstitutional but that claim was voluntarily dismissed because a class action challenging the use of mace was pending in the District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

At trial, McKinley called several witnesses who testified that McKinley was strip searched in a cage within view of other inmates and that McKinley was severely beaten and maced after refusing to submit to a second visual inspection of his anal cavity. The witnesses, and McKinley, testified that after McKinley was maced for refusing to cooperate in the second visual inspection of the anal cavity, he was beaten by several prison guards who had donned riot gear and entered the strip search cage. Then, according to McKinley's testimony, he was handcuffed and forced to submit to a second anal cavity inspection. This time McKinley testified that someone, in violation of prison regulations, "[stuck] their finger in [McKinley's] anal cavity."

After the second anal cavity inspection, McKinley testified that he was further brutalized by being dragged to a cell with handcuffs on, which caused "the handcuffs to scar up and down [his] wrists." Tr. of McKinley's Testimony at 17. He further claimed that he was forced to remain naked in his cell for several hours and, allegedly contrary to prison policy, he was not given a shower for two days after the use of mace.

McKinley further alleged, and testified, that he and two other inmates were forced to undergo strip searches two days after the incident depicted above, even though none of the three inmates had left the control area. He alleged that these searches were conducted pursuant to a policy of "whimsically and capriciously demanding unreasonable and excessive and arbitrary anal searches" which serves to "dehumanize [and] is degrading, disgusting and invidious[.]" Complaint, para. 60. Cf. Mary Beth G. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263, 1272 (7th Cir. 1983).

The defendants' testimony contradicted McKinley's on almost all material points. For instance, Sergeant James D. Smith, who was the ranking sergeant in charge of the Adjustment Center at the time of the incident, gave a different account of the strip search.

According to Sergeant Smith, he was called to the strip search cage because McKinley refused to comply with the order to complete the search. After asking McKinley to allow the search to be completed, Smith ordered him to do so. Smith testified that to his knowledge, McKinley at no time complied with the order to "bend down and spread the cheeks of his buttocks[.]" Tr. Vol. III-A at 24. The Security Office was then called and another defendant, Lieutenant Gary Trattles, attempted to coax McKinley to comply. Trattles then warned McKinley that mace would be used to force completion of the strip search and, after McKinley continued to refuse, he was maced. Then, officers with riot gear and shields entered the cage to forcibly complete the strip search. McKinley resisted and fought, but eventually the search was completed and McKinley was brought to a cell, given his shorts, a washcloth and a towel, and offered a shower which McKinley refused. At no time did any prison employee beat, kick or use excessive force on McKinley. Tr. Vol. III-A at 28.

Sergeant Smith testified that the search was necessary to preserve the safety of the Adjustment Center. Apparently, the policy of strip searching inmates upon their return to the Adjustment Center was designed to prevent an inmate from smuggling contraband into the Center. In the past, Smith says, he found razor blades, wrapped in tape, in the buttocks area of inmates. Thus, Smith felt that the integrity of the Center would have been threatened if the search of McKinley had not been completed.

The jury found only two of the defendants guilty of constitutional violations, Trattles and Hammer. The jury also found that Trattles was entitled to immunity and that Hammer was ...

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