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Lacour v. Duckworth

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 3, 2017

BUSTER LOUIS LACOUR, #R21786, Plaintiff,


          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Buster Lacour, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 11). According to the First Amended Complaint, [1] Plaintiff was beaten by prison guards at Menard on March 15, 2017. (Doc. 11, pp. 1-35). The officials allegedly attempted to cover up their misconduct by charging Plaintiff with numerous prison rule violations and punishing him with disciplinary segregation. Id. He now claims that they conspired to violate his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments and Illinois state law. Id. Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, monetary damages, and injunctive relief. (Doc. 11, pp. 35-37; Doc. 12).

         This case is now before the Court for preliminary review of the First Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         An action or claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that any reasonable person would find meritless. Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross “the line between possibility and plausibility.” Id. at 557. At this juncture, the factual allegations in the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009). The First Amended Complaint survives screening.

         First Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff describes himself as a seriously mentally ill (SMI) inmate, who should not be housed in isolation due to his condition. (Doc. 11, p. 5). Even so, he was placed in protective custody from March 1 - 15, 2017, and from June 22 - July 13, 2017. Id. He was also punished with disciplinary segregation from March 15 - June 15, 2017. (Doc. 11, pp. 12, 16). With the exception of one week, he remained confined in isolation from March 1 - July 13, 2017. Id.

         According to prison policy, inmates held in isolation are allowed no movement outside of their cells, except for showers, medical call passes, scheduled mental health meetings, and visitations. (Doc. 11, p. 5). Pursuant to this policy, Plaintiff was denied time outside of his cell. (Doc. 11, pp. 5-6). He claims that the conditions of his confinement caused him to become depressed and resulted in the incident described herein. (Doc. 11, p. 7).

         On March 15, 2017, Officer Hennrich approached Plaintiff's cell, requested his identification card, and demanded to see his mirror. (Doc. 11, p. 7). Plaintiff asked to know why, and Hennrich said, “I saw your broken mirror sticking out of your cell bars.” Id. Plaintiff told the officer that he was mistaken and must be at the “wrong cell” because his mirror was brand new. Id.

         Hennrich left and returned minutes later with Lieutenant Fricke, Sergeant Crain, and Officer Duckworth. (Doc. 11, pp. 7-8). Fricke ordered Plaintiff to “cuff up.” (Doc. 11, p. 8). Plaintiff asked him to explain why. Id. Fricke responded, “[Y]our [sic] going to N2 seg.” Id. Plaintiff described his response as follows: “Plaintiff, feeling some type of way, due to this defendant's unreasonable request, asked for a crisis team, and informed defendant, Fricke that he was on psych medication, he needs his meds because he was going through it.” Id. Fricke then asked Plaintiff whether he was refusing to cuff up. Id. Before Plaintiff answered, Fricke, Crain, Duckworth, and Hennrich left the area. Id.

         Moments later, they returned with Major Ebonie and Officer Harvey. (Doc. 11, p. 8). The officers again ordered Plaintiff to “cuff up.” Id. When he repeated his request for a crisis team and medication, Ebonie responded, “No. Cuff up now!” Id. At this point, the defendants appeared aggravated, so Plaintiff replied, “I'll cuff up but, [sic] I aint [sic] trying to get beat up.” (Doc. 11, pp. 8-9). He agreed to cuff up a “few minutes” later. (Doc. 11, p. 9).

         As soon as the cuffs were secure, Ebonie and Fricke snatched Plaintiff by his neck, pushed the back of his head down “hard and fast, ” and rushed him out of the back door of the gallery into a hallway that divides the N1 and N2 Cell Houses. (Doc. 11, p. 9). Fricke then slammed Plaintiff's head into the mailboxes and began punching him in the chest. Id. At the same time, Fricke yelled, “[W]hen I tell you to cuff up, bitch, you cuff up!” Id. While still in the hallway, Ebonie, Fricke, and Crain were joined by the Orange Crush Tactical Team.[2] Id. Together, they “beat [P]laintiff about the body, slammed his head into the wall, and continued to violently assault him.” Id. As they did so, Ebonie said, “Bitch you do what I say.” Id.

         Plaintiff sustained numerous injuries during the beating that required medical attention. (Doc. 11, p. 10). His forehead was bleeding, and his eye was swollen shut. Id. He was taken to the health care unit (HCU). Id.

         Before being treated, the Orange Crush Tactical Team “snatched him back out of the HCU.” (Doc. 11, p. 10). As he screamed and cried in pain, an unknown member of the team warned him to “shut your mouth” and “dont say shit bitch [sic].” Id. The team then dragged Plaintiff on the pavement to segregation in the prison's N2 Cell House. Id. He was taken upstairs into a secluded area, where he was beaten a second time. Id. This time, the team hit Plaintiff in the back of his head and chest and then slammed his head into the wall. Id. When Plaintiff complained of pain, the team stripped him of his shoes and clothing and disposed of it all. Id. The team then dragged Plaintiff down the gallery and placed him into Cell 46 “naked and battered.” (Doc. 11, p. 11). Inmates in surrounding cells called out to Plaintiff to make sure he was okay. Id. Unable to summon the energy to explain what happened, he simply said, “[T]hey jumped me, i'm [sic] losing consciousness.” Id.

         When Plaintiff regained consciousness, he was sitting in a chair “all beat up and bleeding.” (Doc. 11, p. 11). All of the previously identified defendants, including Ebonie, were in the room. Id. They began questioning Plaintiff about why he had harmed himself. Id. Plaintiff stated, “[Y]a'll jumped me.” Id. Defendants placed Plaintiff on suicide watch. Id.

         The following day, Plaintiff saw a mental health professional (MHP), MHP Weatherfur, [3]who asked him what happened. (Doc. 11, p. 12). Plaintiff told Weatherfur about the incident. Id. Weatherfur notified internal affairs (IA). Id. The same day, IA officers met with Plaintiff, took his statement, and photographed his injuries. Id.

         On March 21, 2017, Lieutenant Shaunbach[4] also interviewed Plaintiff and took his statement. (Doc. 11, p. 12). Following the investigation, Plaintiff was issued three disciplinary tickets, for which he received three months of disciplinary segregation that ended on June 15, 2017. (Doc. 11, pp. 12, 16). He was demoted to C-grade status on March 22, 2017, and promoted to B-grade status on June 22, 2017. (Doc.11, pp. 16, 18).

         Plaintiff served his three months of disciplinary segregation in Menard's N2 Cell House (Cell 14 in Gallery 4). (Doc. 11, p. 12). He was denied all medical treatment for his injuries. Id. He was “continuously” harassed by “other c/o's, acting in concert with defendants, through a meeting of the minds.” Id. Plaintiff identifies Mendoza as one of these defendants but does not describe the retaliatory actions taken against him by this defendant. (Doc. 11, p. 13). Plaintiff, along with other inmates, filed multiple grievances to complain of the “constant harassment.” Id.

         Unfortunately, however, it only got worse. (Doc. 11, p. 13). Staff disposed of or delayed responses to Plaintiff's grievance(s) addressing the assault. Id. For more than a month, he received no mail from his family or friends. (Doc. 11, p. 15). The prison law library never sent him confirmation that his amended complaint was timely filed in June, prompting him to request an extension of the deadline. (Doc. 11, pp. 14-15). Duckworth also conducted a cell shakedown and “tore up” Plaintiff's sheets on July 23, 2017. (Doc. 11, p. 21 at n.3).

         Further, after he was promoted to B-grade status on June 22, 2017, Plaintiff was subject to “new” rules governing the administrative of discipline that took effect on April 1, 2017. (Doc. 11, pp. 16-18) (citing 20 Ill. Admin. Code. § 504.130(a)(2)). Plaintiff maintains that he was subject to the new rules only because the adjustment committee delayed the issuance of its final disciplinary report by twenty-three days, i.e., until April 14, 2017. (Doc. 11, pp. 19-20). The rules imposed harsher restrictions on inmate privileges. (Doc. 11, pp. 16-20). Specifically, Plaintiff was subject to phone and commissary restrictions that he challenged by writing Counselor Price and the warden.[5] (Doc. 11, p. 20). He received no response. Id. He was also denied grievance forms by various prison staff members throughout this same time period, including Ebonie, Crain, Fricke, Mendoza, Harvey, Duckworth, and Hennrich. (Doc. 11, pp. 6, 20). Plaintiff claims that the new rules regarding B-grade restrictions violate his Fourteenth Amendment rights and the Illinois Constitution. (Doc. 11, pp. 16-18, 20).

         Plaintiff generally alleges that the conditions of his confinement at Menard have had an adverse psychological effect on him. (Doc. 11, p. 21). He suffers from “extreme paranoia and attention deficit disorder.” Id. He expresses concern that he “may” become incompetent. Id. Even so, he was removed from SMI status without a hearing requiring his presence. Id.


          To facilitate the orderly management of future proceedings in this case, and in accordance with the objectives of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(e) and 10(b), the Court has reorganized the claims in Plaintiff's pro se First Amended Complaint into the following enumerated counts:

Count 1 - Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Ebonie, Fricke, and Crain for beating Plaintiff on March 15, 2017.
Count 2 - Eighth Amendment claim against Duckworth, Harvey, and Hennrich for failing to intervene and protect Plaintiff as he was beaten by prison officials on March 15, 2017.
Count 3 - Eighth Amendment claim against Ebonie, Fricke, Crain, Duckworth, Harvey, and Hennrich for failing to ensure that Plaintiff received medical care for the injuries he sustained on March 15, 2017.
Count 4 - Eighth Amendment claim against Ebonie, Fricke, Crain, Duckworth, Harvey, and Hennrich for ignoring Plaintiff's request for a crisis team on March 15, 2017.
Count 5 - Claim against Defendants for placing Plaintiff, who is a seriously mentally ill (SMI) inmate, in segregation for prolonged periods of time without privileges or access to out-of-cell time, in violation of the First Amendment, the settlement agreement in Rasho v. Baldwin, and Illinois state law.
Count 6 - Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendment claim against Defendants for removing Plaintiff from SMI status.
Count 7 - Fourteenth Amendment claim against Defendants for depriving Plaintiff of a protected liberty interest without due process of law by punishing him with three months of segregation for three disciplinary tickets ...

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