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Conwell v. Cook County

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 14, 2014

DONALD CONWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
COOK COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RUBÉN CASTILLO, Chief District Judge.

Before the Court is an amended complaint filed by Donald Conwell ("Plaintiff"), a pro se prisoner, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming a host of defendants located at the Cook County Jail ("the jail"). (R. 60, Compl.) Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must screen the complaint and dismiss it if the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. In determining whether the complaint states a claim, the Court applies the same standard as when deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), accepting the Plaintiffs allegations as true and drawing all inferences in his favor. See Vesely v. Armslist LLC, 762 F.3d 661, 664 (7th Cir. 2014); Lagerstrom v. Kingston, 463 F.3d 621, 624 (7th Cir. 2006). To survive dismissal, a complaint must state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Bissessur v. Indiana Univ. Bd. of Trs., 581 F.3d 599, 602 (7th Cir. 2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Thus, a plaintiff "must do better than putting a few words on paper that, in the hands of an imaginative reader, might suggest that something has happened to her that might be redressed by the law." Swanson v. Citibank N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 403 (7th Cir. 2010). Nevertheless, a pro se complaint is entitled to liberal construction, "however inartfully pleaded." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This is Plaintiff's third attempt to state his claims. He originally brought this action pro se, and after reviewing the complaint the Court recruited counsel to represent him. (R. 5, Min. Entry.) Counsel later sought to withdraw, and the Court granted his motion. (R. 8, Min. Entry.) New counsel was recruited to represent Plaintiff, and counsel subsequently filed an amended complaint on Plaintiffs behalf.[1] ( Id. ; R. 12, Compl.) After an answer was filed and various other proceedings occurred, counsel sought to withdraw, due to an apparent disagreement over the scope of counsel's representation and the strategies to be employed in this case. ( See R. 46, Mot. to Withdraw; see also R. 58, Mot. for Appoint. of Counsel at 8.) The Court granted counsel's request to withdraw, and directed Plaintiff to file an amended complaint if he intended to proceed with this action. (R. 49, Min. Entry.) Plaintiff responded by filing the present complaint. (R. 60, Compl.)

RELEVANT FACTS

In the detailed 36-page complaint, Plaintiff claims he was subjected to a campaign of harassment by staff at the jail during 2012 and 2013.[2] (R. 60, Compl.) He sues more than 30 different members of the correctional staff, as well as Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and various other jail officials. ( Id. at 4-8.) Plaintiff claims that during a prior period of incarceration at the jail in 2007, he was beaten by jail guards; as a result he is in a wheelchair and has impairments with his hands and eye. ( Id. at 9.) He claims that he filed a lawsuit pertaining to the beating, which was ultimately dismissed for lack of prosecution. ( Id. at 9-10.) He alleges that because of his prior lawsuit, as well as numerous grievances he filed during his incarceration at the jail, jail staff developed an "animosity" toward him. ( Id. at 9.) Because of this animosity, he claims numerous jail staff purposely allowed him to be attacked by other inmates, subjected him to incidents of excessive force, and exposed him to substandard conditions of confinement. ( Id. at 9-35.) He describes several discrete incidents in support of his claims, which are outlined below.

In February 2012, jail guard Lieutenant N. Bowens allegedly announced in front of other inmates that Plaintiff was a "snitch." ( Id. at 11.) Plaintiff thereafter requested to be placed in protective custody, but Lieutenant Bowens denied his request, as did Officers R. Smith and an unnamed jail guard (identified as "John Doe #1"). ( Id. ) Plaintiff remained in the general population, and shortly thereafter was attacked by another inmate, Richard Brooks. ( Id. ) He claims to have suffered a fractured facial bone and other injuries as a result of the attack. ( Id. )

In March 2012, Plaintiff got in a dispute with another jail guard, Officer Jennifer Jefferson, about his housing assignment. ( Id. at 12.) Officers William Baker, Jose Tiscareno, and M. Olavarria allegedly overheard this dispute, became angry, and pulled Plaintiff out of his wheelchair. (Id.) He claims they choked him and kicked him in the face while he was lying on the ground. ( Id. at 12-13.) Officer Ramonita Perez, another jail guard, allegedly stood by during this beating and did nothing to intervene, instead acting as a "look out." ( Id. at 13.) Plaintiff claims to have lost consciousness and suffered multiple injuries, including "blood clots in both eyes, " bruising on his face, and severe pain in his neck and back. ( Id. at 13-14.)

In October 2012, Plaintiff was allegedly attacked by another inmate, Kevin Dawson, as he was being transported to the jail's medical facility. ( Id. at 14.) He claims jail officials previously ordered that he and Dawson be kept apart because Dawson had threatened him, but Officers Jimmy Chapman, John Malloy, Darnice Wiggins, R. Romero, and two unnamed officers (identified as "John Does #2 and #3) failed to heed this order. ( Id. at 14.) All of these Defendants allegedly stood by and watched while Dawson stabbed Plaintiff in the forearm with a knife. ( Id. at 16.) Upon seeing Plaintiff's injuries, Officer Malloy allegedly commented, "Hopefully Dawson cut the vein." ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that the officers then refused to take him for medical treatment for 45 minutes, even though the incident occurred right outside the jail's medical facility. ( Id. at 17.)

In December 2012, Plaintiff was transported to an outside clinic for medical treatment. ( Id. at 17.) When his treatment was over, officers arrived to transport him back to the jail, but they would not allow him to ride in the jail's wheelchair-accessible van, even though the van was at the facility picking up other inmates. ( Id. at 19.) The officers allegedly insisted instead that Plaintiff exit his wheelchair and ride in a squad car, which Plaintiff felt was unsafe. ( Id. at 17-18.) Officers Johnson and Rooney (first name unknown), and an unnamed officer ("John Doe #4"), were all present during this incident, and denied Plaintiffs repeated requests to be transported in the van. ( Id. at 17-18.) Officer Doe #4 then tried to force Plaintiff into the squad car, causing Plaintiff to strike his head on the door of the vehicle. ( Id. at 19.) He fell to the ground and called for help, at which point the officers allegedly began beating him. ( Id. ) He claims he was wearing handcuffs and leg shackles at the time. ( Id. ) He asserts that Officer Johnson stood by laughing while the beating occurred. ( Id. at 20.) As a result of the beating, he claims to have suffered a bloody nose and cuts, among other injuries. ( Id. at 19-20.)

Plaintiff claims that after he returned to the jail, Lieutenant Martinez (first name unknown), communicated with the officers involved in the beating, and tried to cover up what had occurred by telling jail staff that Plaintiff "had a little fall." ( Id. at 21.) In addition to Martinez, Plaintiff saw Officers Conley, Johnson, Ervin, and Eppes-Davis (first names unknown), and requested medical care from each of them. ( Id. ) He alleges that they ignored him, and in the case of Officers Eppes-Davis and Ervin, "laugh[ed] and walked away." ( Id. at 21.) Plaintiff later came in contact with a jail nurse, Ayeshah Toney, and explained that he had been beaten and was in need of medical treatment, but she allegedly declined to provide him with any treatment. ( Id. at 22.) He claims Nurse Toney did not like him because he previously complained about her sleeping on the job. ( Id. )

Plaintiff's difficulties continued, and in July 2013, he had another run-in with inmate Dawson. ( Id. ) Plaintiff asserts that he was receiving a breathing treatment which required that the food slot on his cell door be propped open. ( Id. ) Officers Begley and Koch (first names unknown) were on duty at the time, and he claims they were aware that he was supposed to be separated from Dawson. ( Id. ) Despite this, the officers allegedly allowed Dawson to get close enough to spit on Plaintiff through the opening in the door. ( Id. ) Plaintiff later complained about the spitting incident to Sergeant Kolnicki (first name unknown), but he merely "thought the situation was funny." ( Id. at 23.)

The final incident occurred in October 2013, when Plaintiff claims Officer Begley purposely ordered him to enter the cell of a dangerous inmate, David Miller, who was being detained on murder charges. ( Id. at 25.) Plaintiff claims that he told Officer Begley he did not feel safe around this inmate, but she allegedly ignored his concerns, instead locking him inside the cell "with a smirk" on her face. ( Id. at 26.) Miller then attacked Plaintiff, cutting and scratching him on the face, pulling him out of his wheelchair, and injuring his arm, back, and hip. ( Id. ) He alleges that Officer Begley and Officer Bailey (first name unknown) purposely delayed in removing him from the cell to prolong the attack. ( Id. at 27.) He further claims that these officers, as well as Commander Hudik, Sergeant Cruz, Sergeant McGee, and Officer Ortell (first names unknown), were aware of his injuries from this incident but purposely delayed in sending him for medical treatment for over two hours. ( Id. at 28.)

In addition to these incidents of excessive force and assaults by other inmates, Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to substandard conditions of confinement. ( Id. at 23-24.) Specifically, he alleges that during March 2012, he was forced to live in a cell that was not handicapped accessible, which caused him to injure himself several times when he was attempting to transfer out of his wheelchair. ( Id. at 24.) He further alleges that the cell had dried blood, feces, ...


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