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Donelson v. Pfister

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

February 13, 2017

RANDY PFISTER, Warden Respondent.

          ORDER & OPINION


         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Charles Donelson's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which was originally denied by this Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit's remand of the same to this Court. (Docs. 1, 32, & 56).

         On December 20, 2016, the Court again denied Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus because the Court found the procedural errors harmless, because Petitioner had been convicted of a similar crime in state court. (Doc. 80). On January 5, 2017, Petitioner filed a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment because Petitioner's criminal state court proceedings had not been finalized. (Doc. 83). The Court stayed its reconsideration until Petitioner's state court proceedings had been resolved. (Text Order, Jan. 17, 2017). On January 30, 2017, the state court vacated Petitioner's state court proceedings. (Doc. 99-1).

         The Court now grants Petitioner's Motion to Alter and Amend Judgement. (Doc. 83). The Court vacates its December 20, 2016 Order and its accompanied Judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.

         I. Background

         Petitioner is serving a fifty-year sentence for first degree murder, home invasion, and aggravated sexual assault. (Doc. 19 at 1). He is currently incarcerated at the Pontiac Correctional Center, where he is in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Id. He filed his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on October 21, 2013. (Doc. 1).

         A. The Disciplinary Incidents and Prison Disciplinary Process

         This Petition emerges from two disciplinary incidents that occurred while Petitioner was incarcerated at the Western Illinois Correctional Center. (Doc. 19 at 2). The incidents are described in two disciplinary reports, the first of which was filed on July 12, 2011 (Doc. 19-1 at 2), and the second of which was filed on July 14, 2011. (Doc. 19-1 at 3).

         According to the incident report and disciplinary report filed after the first incident, Petitioner attempted to leave the “R1 B-wing” at approximately 8:20 a.m. without being properly dressed. Id. at 1. When Officer Jimmie Watson ordered Petitioner to show his identification and to move away from the wing's doorway, Petitioner initially refused to comply. Id. at 2. When he did comply, Petitioner told Officer Watson, “I'll fix you . . . I'll have your job, bitch.” Id. at 1. This incident was documented by an incident report dated July 11, 2011. Id. Petitioner received the disciplinary report for the first incident on July 12, 2011. Id. at 2.

         Petitioner received another disciplinary report for a second incident occurring on July 11, 2011. Id. at 3. According to this disciplinary report, Petitioner's second disciplinary incident occurred approximately one hour after the first incident. Id. The report states that Petitioner sidestepped Officers Roberts and Pool as the R1-B wing door was closing and ran towards Officer Watson. Id. He “drew back his right arm with a closed fist and swung his right arm around striking Watson in the left facial area.” Id. Petitioner continued to strike Watson until he was restrained by two responding officers. Id. at 4. This assault disrupted “normal operating procedures of the facility” and the wing “was . . . placed on a Level 1 Lockdown.” Id. Petitioner received his disciplinary report for this incident on July 14, 2011. Id.

         Both disciplinary reports that Petitioner received included a detachable bottom section in which Petitioner could identify witnesses that he wished the disciplinary review board, known as the Adjustment Committee, to call. See Id. at 2-4. The report instructs the recipient to “Detach and Return [it] to the Adjustment Committee or Program Unit Prior to the Hearing” and includes spaces for inmates to print names of witnesses and describe the facts to which the witness can testify. Id. at 3.

         Petitioner completed those sections on each form, but did not detach them. See Id. Instead, Petitioner asserts that he copied the entire form and returned the form to the Adjustment Committee. Id. at 22. On the first disciplinary report, he requested the “R1-B wing camera” as a witness, and noted it would show that “he was on the wing, control officer open door.” Id. at 2. He also listed “Leamon/Cox” as witnesses, and indicated that they could testify that he “did not hold the door, ” that he “was talking to C/O Roberts, ” and that he “gave C/O my ID.” Id. He indicated they would also testify that Petitioner “did not say a word to Watson” and testify that “Watson has been harassing” Petitioner for two-months. Id. On the second report, he listed the “R1 B-wing camera” and “Phone recordings” as witnesses. Id. at 3. He indicated that the “R1 B-wing camera” would show that Roberts and Pool were “blocking the door, ” and that “Watson was threatening to assault me all hours.” Id. The phone recordings would show that he “ran for the door for a Lieutenant since C/O Roberts would not call one. I was assaulted.” Id.

         Shortly after the incident, Petitioner was transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center, where his Adjustment Committee hearing took place on July 20, 2011. Id. at 5. Petitioner pleaded not guilty, and the Adjustment Committee found him guilty of “assaulting any person, insolence, unauthorized movement, and disobeying a direct order.” Id. He was disciplined with a one-year demotion to C-grade status, one-year segregation, one-year good time credit revocation, one-year audio/visual restriction, and six months of contact visit restriction. Id. at 6. The Adjustment Committee's report stated that Petitioner did not request any witnesses. Id. The Committee repeated the accounts set forth in both disciplinary reports as the basis for its decision. Compare Id. at 5 with Id. at 2-4.

         Petitioner filed an Offender's Grievance on August 15, 2011. Id. at 7. In it, he argued that the Adjustment Committee did not comply with procedural due process safeguards because the witnesses he requested on the disciplinary reports were not brought before the Adjustment Committee and its decision was not supported by “some evidence.” Id. at 7-8. In response to Petitioner's grievance, a Grievance Officer recommended that the grievance be denied because “no witnesses were requested” and the findings were supported by the facts presented. Id. at 9. The Chief Administrative Officer, Randy Pfister, Warden of the Pontiac Correctional Center, approved the recommendation. Id. Then, on September 20, 2011, Petitioner appealed to the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, S.A. Godinez, who denied Petitioner's appeal. Id. at 11.

         B. State Habeas Proceedings

         Following this denial, Petitioner filed a pro se complaint in state court for mandamus relief, a writ of certiorari, and a declaratory judgment against Pfister and Godinez on February 9, 2012. Id. at 12. The complaint alleged that that the Adjustment Committee violated his due process rights by failing to allow his timely witness requests or provide a reason for their exclusion and for failing to base its decision on “some evidence.” Id. at 12-15, 21-24.

         The trial court dismissed the complaint on August 14, 2012, and Petitioner appealed. Id. at 38. The Illinois appellate court affirmed the trial court, concluding that petitioner's due process rights were not violated. Id. at 80, 86-87. The appellate court concluded that Petitioner's witness claim was foreclosed because he did not comply with the procedure for requesting witnesses when he failed to return the witness request slips. Id. at 86. It also concluded that the July 12 and July 14 disciplinary reports, on their own, provided “some evidence” upon which the Committee based its decision. Id. at 87. The Illinois Supreme Court denied Petitioner's leave to appeal the appellate court's decision on September 25, 2013. Id. at 103.

         C. Federal ...

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