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Torrance Jones v. Jamescross

April 19, 2011


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 07-cv-00673-David R. Herndon, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge.


Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and FLAUM and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

Torrance Jones, a federal prisoner, admits to pushing prison guard Richard Loftus during an altercation at the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, Florida in 2006. Jones was found guilty of assault at his ensuing disciplinary hearing and was sanctioned with the loss of 14 days of good time credit. After exhausting his administrative appeals, Jones petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, claiming that he was denied due process at the disciplinary hearing. The district court denied the petition. We affirm.

I. Background

Jones is currently serving a 30-year sentence on federal drug trafficking charges. On August 31, 2006, Correctional Officer Richard Loftus escorted Jones to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") at the Miami Federal Correctional Institution. To reach the SHU, Loftus and Jones needed to cross the open compound. Generally, inmates are not handcuffed in an open compound so as not to render them vulnerable to attack by other inmates. Nevertheless, Loftus ordered Jones to cuff up while the two were in the open compound. Jones refused, telling Loftus he would do so if the compound was closed. Loftus physically attempted to handcuff Jones twice, and twice Jones pulled away. Loftus then pushed Jones up against the SHU grill. According to Jones, Loftus pressed his forearm on Jones's throat, pinning him against the SHU grill. Jones pushed Loftus away. Eventually, Loftus cuffed Jones. Counselor Jose Cabrera witnessed the incident, which also was captured on surveillance video. Following the incident, Jones complained of tenderness at his lower throat and neck area and received medical treatment.

Later on the 31st, Loftus filed an incident report, citing Jones for assaulting another person in violation of code 224, and refusing to obey an order in violation of code 307. See 28 C.F.R. § 541.3. The Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") suspended its internal disciplinary process while the FBI investigated the incident and the United States Attorney's Office determined whether to criminally prosecute Jones. The U.S. Attorney decided not to charge Jones on September 13, 2006. Jones received a copy of the incident report that same day.

A Unit Disciplinary Committee ("UDC") hearing regarding the incident was initiated on September 20, 2006. The UDC's report indicates that Jones requested no witnesses at that time, but Jones maintains that he told Counselor Roche (who conducted the UDC hearing) that he had two witnesses. According to Jones, he knew only the witnesses' nicknames, and Roche promised to try and identify the men. Jones heard nothing further from Roche.

The UDC referred the case to Detention Hearing Officer ("DHO") Yida Posada. Jones's DHO hearing was convened and extended on three occasions in October 2006. The DHO's notes from one of those occasions states "Tyrone Walker, witness no reply." She does not recall the meaning of that note.

The DHO hearing eventually was held on October 23, 2006. David Tosana served as Jones's staff representative. Jones had a brief meeting with Tosana-his first and only meeting with his representative-prior to the hearing. At that time, Jones asked that Tosana view the surveillance video of the incident. Jones also told Tosana that he wanted an inmate, Irvin Green, to testify at the DHO hearing. Jones contends that he told Tosana that Green could provide the name of a second witness.

That individual has since been identified as Yves St. Hilaire. However, Tosana does not remember Jones mentioning another witness, and St. Hilaire did not testify at the DHO hearing. The DHO's report indicates that Green was the only witness Jones requested. The DHO's notes from October 23 state: "Witness (Irvin Green) the other name is incorrect"; she has no recollection of what that note meant. Jones maintains that he would have requested a third witness as well, an inmate named Jorge Masvidal, had Masvidal not been released prior to the DHO hearing, on September 20, 2006. Jones never mentioned Masvidal to Tosana or the DHO.

After Jones and Tosana met, there was a several-hour recess during which Tosana viewed the surveil-lance video and prepared a memorandum for the DHO describing its contents. Jones was not permitted to watch the video. Tosana's memorandum stated in relevant part:

Counselor Jose Cabrera was standing in front of the grill area when I observed Officer Richard Loftus S.O.S. escorting inmate Torrence [sic] Jones (19267-018) to Special Housing Unit. Inmate Jones and Officer Loftus appeared to be struggling as they approached the Grill area. It appeared as though Officer Loftus was attempting to apply restraints on inmate Jones and inmate Jones appeared to be resisting by walking away from Officer Loftus and not placing his hands behind him. . . . Officer Loftus attempted to pin inmate Jones' chest to the SHU grill and cuffing [sic] him, but inmate Jones again resisted by pulling away and turning around. Officer Loftus then pushed inmate Jones in the chest and pinned him against the grill area by placing his left forearm on inmate Jones' neck (throat area). At that time inmate Jones placed both hands on Officer Loftus' chest and pushed Officer Loftus away from him.

Tosana also interviewed Green. Jones agreed to have Green's testimony presented through a statement rather than have Green testify in person. Therefore, Tosana prepared a memorandum for the DHO describing Green's statements. Green did not testify about the August 31 incident. Rather, he stated ...

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