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McCottrell v. Correctional Officers, Marcus, White, Labarin Williams, Saleh Obaisi, M.D.

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

May 22, 2017



          AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge

         Defendants Marcus White (“White”) and Labarin Williams (“Williams”), collectively, “the Officer Defendants, ” have moved for summary judgment on Count I of Plaintiffs John McCottrell and Dustin Clay's Complaint brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (R. 76, Defs.' Mem. of Law in Support of Mot. for Summ. J.) For the following reasons, the Court grants the Officer Defendants' motion for summary judgment.


         This case arises from injuries Plaintiffs, both of whom were inmates at Stateville Correctional Center (“Stateville”), suffered on November 6, 2013, after the Officer Defendants discharged shotguns causing shotgun pellets to strike Plaintiffs. (R. 75, Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶¶ 1, 6.) Plaintiffs have sued the Officer Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the Officer Defendants deprived them of their rights under the Eight Amendment by using excessive force in discharging their firearms.

         I. The Dining Hall

         On November 6, 2013, the Officer Defendants were both stationed in the Stateville dining hall guard tower, which is about 15 feet above the ground. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 15.) Correctional officers on the ground floor of the dining hall are generally armed with pepper spray, and the officers in the tower are armed with firearms. (Id. ¶ 33.) The Officer Defendants were each armed with a loaded shotgun. (R. 83, Pls.' Statement of Facts ¶ 8.) There is a “target box” at the same level of the guard tower, and there is also a “shot box”[1] in the dining hall seating area, as well as in other areas in the dining hall. (Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶¶ 15-16.) Inmates largely outnumber correctional officers in the dining hall, and inmates are not placed in hand restraints or foot restraints while in the dining hall. (Id. ¶30-31.) Fights are more common in the dining hall because it is one of the only places at Stateville where large groups-often between 300 and 400- of unrestrained inmates are able to congregate. (Id. ¶¶ 34-37.) According to the Officer Defendants, fights between inmates pose a serious threat to everyone in Stateville because the fights often escalate quickly, inmates refuse to be subdued, and inmates sometimes utilize makeshift but dangerous weapons to harm officers and others. (Id. ¶¶ 38-40.)

         Plaintiffs were both incarcerated at Stateville and at the time of the incident, they were in the dining hall for lunch. (Id. ¶ 7.) The Stateville dining hall is a semicircle that is divided into different sections. (Id. ¶ 8.) Inmates attend meals with other inmates in their cell house and they are separated in the dining hall according to the floor (“gallery”) on which they reside. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) On the date of the incident, Plaintiffs both lived in D-House on gallery nine. (Id. ¶ 11.) D-House contains about 400 inmates. (Id. ¶ 12.) Prior to the incident, inmates from galleries nine and seven, including Plaintiffs, had already sat down in two sections of the dining hall, and about 50 inmates from gallery five were entering the dining hall. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.)

         II. The Plaintiffs' Perspective of the Incident

         The incident started when two non-party inmates began fighting while in line to enter the dining hall. (Id. ¶ 17; Defs.' Statement of Facts, Ex. F, Dining Room Video.) Clay recalled that the two inmates were fighting for approximately three seconds before officers intervened, and McCottrell recalled that the inmates fought for less than a minute before he heard a gunshot. (Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶¶ 19-20; Ex. C, Dep. of Dustin Clay 24: 12-14.) The video of the incident shows the two non-party inmates wrestling and holding each other, but it is not clear if either inmate threw a punch. (Dining Room Video.) Neither inmate had or used a weapon. (Pls.' Statement of Facts ¶ 3.) The video shows the two inmates struggling with each other for approximately 20 seconds before several correctional officers intervened to separate and handcuff the fighting inmates. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6; Dining Room Video.) At least one officer used pepper spray to subdue the fighting inmates. (Pls.' Statement of Facts ¶ 6.) After the officers separated the fighting inmates, one inmate refused to be subdued and struggled with the officers for approximately another 20 seconds. (Dining Room Video.) At the time of the incident, Plaintiffs were seated at tables in the dining hall about 40-50 feet away from the fighting inmates. (Pls.' Statement of Facts ¶ 7.)

         After the officers on the ground separated the fighting inmates, the Officer Defendants simultaneously fired their shotguns, causing Plaintiffs to be struck with shotgun pellets. (Id. ¶ 9.) The pellets struck McCottrell in his leg and neck and Clay in his right elbow. (Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶¶ 28-29.) Both Plaintiffs heard only one shot. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Clay recalled that the “fight was under control, ” and officers were in the process of handcuffing the fighting inmates when the Officer Defendants fired their weapons. (Dep. of Clay, 25: 2-14.) A report by the Illinois Department of Corrections Internal Affairs Department concluded that the Officer Defendants fired their weapons after the officers had separated the fighting inmates in violation of department regulations. (Pls.' Statement of Facts, Ex. 1 4-5.) In their reports after the incident, both the Officer Defendants failed to note that they fired their weapons after officers separated the inmates. (Pls.' Statement of Facts ¶ 12.) Neither Plaintiff observed the direction that the Officer Defendants were pointing their guns when they fired the shots that hit Plaintiffs, but both believe that the Officer Defendants must have been pointing their guns at Plaintiffs. (Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶¶ 24-27.)

         Plaintiffs' Statement of Facts also includes several assertions from documents or witnesses that the Officer Defendants argue constitute hearsay, including the Officer Defendants' report regarding the incident, the Department of Corrections internal report about the incident, and statements other inmates made to Plaintiff McCottrell. (See Pls.' Statement of Facts, ¶¶ 10, 12, 13, 15.) The Officer Defendants contend that all assertions from these sources are hearsay and are inadmissible at the summary judgment stage as well as at trial. Cairel v. Alderden, 821 F.3d 823, 830 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 493 (2016) (“If the evidence is inadmissible hearsay, the courts may not consider it.”). The Court finds that the factual findings from the internal affairs report are admissible under Rule 803(8), and the Officer Defendants' reports are admissible as statements by a party opponent, but the statements other inmates made to McCottrell about the Officer Defendants allegedly aiming at the inmates are hearsay and are not admissible.[2] See Fed. R. Evid. 803(8) and 801(d)(2); see also Jessup v. Miami-Dade Cty., 697 F.Supp.2d 1312, 1322 (S.D. Fla. 2010), aff'd, 440 F. App'x 689 (11th Cir. 2011) (“factual findings in internal affairs reports are generally admissible under an exception to the hearsay rule”). Specifically, Plaintiffs attempt to use the statements other inmates made to Plaintiff McCottrell for the truth of the matter asserted, namely, that the Officer Defendants aimed their guns at the inmates. This is classic hearsay.

         III. The Officer Defendants' Perspective of the Incident

         The Officer Defendants observed two inmates fighting in the dining hall. (Id. ¶ 41.) Correctional officers on the ground moved quickly to separate the fighting inmates, but one inmate continued to struggle and refused to comply with the officers' orders. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.) The correctional officers were having difficulty restraining the inmate, and Defendant Williams “discharged a warning shot into the ceiling toward the nearest shot-box.”[3] (Id., Ex. D, Dec. of Labarin Williams ¶ 9.) Defendant White also fired a warning shot into the ceiling, although he did not aim for the shot box because other officers told him that shooting into the ceiling decreased the chance of a ricochet and he wanted to minimize the chance of a ricochet. (Defs.' Statement of Facts, Ex. E, Dec. of Marcus White ¶¶ 9, 11.)[4] The Officer Defendants both believed that it was necessary to shoot a warning shot to restore safety and order in the dining hall because they did not know if the struggling offender possessed a weapon and they believed he posed a threat to the correctional officers attempting to subdue him. (Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶¶ 49-51.) The Officer Defendants have stated that they did not discharge their firearms with the intent or will to injure anyone. (Dec. of White ¶ 10; Dec. of Williams ¶ 10.) Neither of the Officer Defendants recall meeting or knowing Plaintiffs and they harbor no ill will towards either Plaintiff. (Defs.' Statement of Facts ¶¶ 55-56.) Plaintiffs also do not recall meeting the Officer Defendants and are not aware of any ill will or malicious intent on behalf of the Officer Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 59-62.)

         IV. Plaintiffs' ...

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