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Cornell v. Gubbles

October 22, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge


This case was tried to the court on March 2, 2009.*fn1 The plaintiff, Adelaide Cornell, appeared personally accompanied by her counsel, Geoffrey J. Repo, Esq. and Scott Mascianica, Esq. The defendants, Ray Gubbles and Andrew Grove, appeared personally accompanied by their counsel, Jacob H. Smith and Christopher Higgerson, Illinois Assistant Attorneys General. This is a case brought under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. §1983 claiming money damages. The court has jurisdiction under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1343. The uncontested facts of the case are set out in the appendix attached to this order.

The plaintiff, Cornell, is a former inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections who, at the time of the occurrences complained of in this case, was housed in the segregation unit of the Dwight Correctional Center. The defendant, Ray Gubbles, was a correctional sergeant*fn2 acting as a supervisor on the wing where the plaintiff was housed. The defendant, Andrew Grove, was a correctional officer working as a wing officer on the same shift as Defendant Gubbles. Correctional Officer Tammy Bentley was also a wing officer on this same shift.

Cornell claims that on July 9, 2004, Gubbles read one of her personal letters over the prison intercom system infringing her First and Fourth Amendment rights. Cornell maintains that she tried to stop Gubbles by first threatening to flood her cell and then threatening to report him to Internal Affairs. The plaintiff claims that Gubbles came to her cell and physically attacked and hurt her in violation of the Eighth Amendment and state law. The plaintiff claims that Grove stood by during the attack and did nothing to intervene. Cornell further claims she suffered from physical injury and severe emotional distress as a result of Gubbles' actions. The defendants deny liability. The evidence is conflicting and therefore the case tuns on the credibility of the witnesses.


The segregation unit where the plaintiff was housed is constructed around a central control room called a panel, with four pods or corridors of cells radiating outwards from the control panel. (Plain. Ex. 3). The panel and corridors are arranged so that the officer on duty in the panel can see down each of the four corridors of cells. At the time in question, the officer on duty in the panel was Correctional Officer Barbara Hoffmeyer. The panel officer's position is a stationary one, while the other officers on duty move about the unit. The panel has controls for locking and unlocking the cells in the unit. It is equipped with a communication system that permits the officer in the panel to speak with the inmates in an individual cell or to broadcast over a public address system to all the cells within the unit. The inmates are housed two to a cell.

At about 8:30 p.m. on the date of the incident, Cornell wrote two personal letters - one to her mother and one to her boyfriend. In the letter to her mother, Cornell wrote about how she was getting along in prison, about her room mate, and about her need for money. Cornell also enclosed coupons for magazine subscriptions for herself and her roommate. In her letter to her boyfriend, Cornell wrote three pages of very specific and explicit descriptions about their sexual relations. The letter contained no other information and had no enclosures. Cornell put the letters in their unsealed envelopes and wrote the addressees' names on them and her own name and inmate serial number. In accordance with mail procedures at Dwight Correctional Center, Cornell gave the letters to Correctional Officer Tammy Bentley when she came through the unit picking up outgoing mail. Bentley took the mail to the panel and put it through the panel chuck hole. She did not put it into the locked box for mail that is kept in the panel because the box was not within her reach. (Stip. Facts. No. 9, 10).

Shortly after Bentley delivered the mail to the panel, Gubbles entered the panel and Hoffmeyer took advantage of his presence in the panel to leave her post and go into the bathroom that is located inside the panel. Hoffmeyer testified she couldn't hear what Gubbles was doing but heard muffled voices and thought he was reading something. The court finds she was quite evasive in her recollections. That might be due to the passage of time, but it also appeared to the court that she was deliberately slanting her testimony to favor Defendant Gubbles, her present superior officer. (Trial Tr. p. 76-78.)

Gubbles states that he noticed the mail sitting on the table in the panel and saw the magazine subscriptions sticking out of an envelope. Gubbles says he thought the plaintiff was attempting to mail the magazine subscriptions out for other inmates. Therefore, Gubbles says he got on the intercom system to determine if Cornell was responsible for the subscriptions.

What happened, the court finds from a consideration of all the evidence, was this: Gubbles proceeded to read all or parts of Cornell's sexually explicit letter to her boyfriend over the unit's public address system, or, as he claims, over the individual connection into Cornell's cell. Either way, both Cornell and Parks said it was audible to others on the wing. The court finds that this was a deliberate act on Gubbles' part to humiliate, punish and provoke Cornell. In addition, it was not Gubbles' function to check Cornell's mail for enclosures or contraband. That was the job of the mail room personnel who examined all inmates' outgoing mail. In his announcement over the intercom Gubbles first stated that it was "story time" prior to reading the letter. (Trial Tr. p. 41). Cornell became upset, hysterical, and screamed over the intercom at Gubbles to stop reading her letter. He laughed and kept right on reading. Cornell became increasingly agitated and hysterical.

Both sides agree that Cornell first threatened to flood her cell and then yelled that she was going to report Gubbles to Internal Affairs. Gubbles, fearing that Cornell would flood her cell and the gallery, ordered Bentley to shut off the water supply to Cornell's cell. Bentley went to the utility closet next to Cornell's cell but was unable to close the valve controlling the water supply. Grove was then called to assist, and he went to the utility closet and closed the supply valve. When Grove arrived at the utility closet to assist Bentley, Grove saw Gubbles outside Cornell's cell. While he was inside the utility closet working the control valve, Grove could hear Gubbles enter the cell. Grove also heard Gubbles tell Cornell to cuff up, Cornell yelling deprecatory remarks and scuffling sounds. When Grove came out of the utility closet and went to stand outside Cornell's cell, Gubbles had already handcuffed her and was assisting her up off the floor to sit on the bed.

The parties agree that Gubbles entered the plaintiff's cell without having the two inmates cuff up first. The court finds Cornell's consistent account about Gubbles' conduct the most credible. She states Gubbles entered her cell and they exchanged words. Then Gubbles grabbed Cornell by the arm, twisted it, hit her across the arm with the hand cuffs, threw her to the floor face down striking her head on the metal bed, kicked her in the breast, put his knee in her back, and put the hand cuffs on her.

Photographs of Cornell presented at trial are hard evidence of what took place. Taken just four days after the incident, the photographs reveal bruising that had to have been produced by trauma and are consistent with the time frame of the assault. They demonstrate clearly that Gubbles used force on Cornell and injured her. The defendant offered no explanation for the bruising and in fact, changed his version of events at trial. Gubbles incredulously testified that there was no physical altercation of any kind with Cornell because she did not resist his efforts to handcuff her. The defendant had previously told the Internal Affairs investigator that Cornell pulled away as he put the handcuffs on one of Cornell's arms. (Trial Tr. p. 140). In addition, the report from the Employee Review Hearing based on Gubbles statements indicates that Gubbles said he tried to put the handcuffs on Cornell, but could not.

Gubbles testimony was further weakened by the fact that other witnesses testified that correctional officers, such as Gubbles, are required to write an incident report if there is any physical altercation with an inmate. No report was made in this case. In addition, Gubbles admitted that based on his version of events, he ...

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