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Chittum v. Hare

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 26, 2018

BRANDON LEE CHITTUM, # 85895, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL HARE, Defendant.


          J. Phil Gilbert, District Judge.

         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at the Madison County Jail (“the Jail”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendant has repeatedly subjected him to sexual harassment, and retaliated against him for resisting. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss any portion of the Complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         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 “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” 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. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff has been an inmate at the Jail since December 2013. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Officer Hare has allegedly been sexually harassing Plaintiff for several years. Hare's conduct includes “verbal sexual threats, ” and Hare has also put his hands on Plaintiff's body on “numerous occasions for reasons of a sexual nature.” Id. Hare has also threatened to make Plaintiff's life in jail much harder if Plaintiff reported Hare's harassment.

         In December 2013, Hare began commenting on Plaintiff's body, “cat-calling” him, and making obscene gestures such as simulating oral sex. (Doc. 1, p. 6-7). In response to one such gesture, Plaintiff called Hare a “faggot, ” and Hare then locked Plaintiff down for 48 hours. After that, Plaintiff kept quiet in response to Hare's threats and comments. (Doc. 1 p. 7).

         Hare escalated his behavior to “actual sexual contact” such as singling Plaintiff out to conduct a body search that would end with Hare fondling Plaintiff's genitals, during which Hare would whisper comments like, “you coming around yet?” (Doc. 1, p. 7). Many times, Hare would slap Plaintiff's buttocks and comment on his physique when he was out of range of surveillance cameras. When Plaintiff yelled at him to stop, Hare would lock Plaintiff down in his cell and tell him that life could be “easier” for him if he would “just let it happen.” Id.

         Plaintiff had himself moved to the S.H.U., which had cameras in the cell, in an effort to stay safe. However, Hare's harassment continued, including an incident when he would not allow Plaintiff to get his clothes after a shower unless Plaintiff lifted his towel and showed Hare his genitals. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff reluctantly did so, and Hare said, “I knew you'd come around.” Id.

         Plaintiff then moved to lockdown Block E-S, where Hare's harassment became worse. On many occasions while Plaintiff was out of his cell for recreation, Hare would enter the empty cell, take Plaintiff's pencils, and draw doodles on the wall depicting Hare and Plaintiff engaging in sexual acts. (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff washed off the drawings and said nothing out of fear of harsher treatment. Once, Hare walked in on Plaintiff while he was showering and commented on Plaintiff's genitals. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff yelled at him to get out. When other inmates asked what happened, Plaintiff was too embarrassed to say anything. Another time, Plaintiff was in the E-S Dayroom alone when Hare walked in abruptly, pushed Plaintiff against the wall, grabbed Plaintiff's genitals, and tried to put his mouth on Plaintiff's mouth. Plaintiff tried to get away, but Hare squeezed his testicles tighter and said, “you're gonna stop playing games with me soldier boy.” (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff describes this as the most scared he had ever been in his life, and he was traumatized by the incident.

         After a few weeks, Plaintiff was able to move to Block B-S where he would not be by himself. Even so, a few weeks before Plaintiff filed this Complaint, he was last in line on the way to church when Hare came up and told him, “It's not over, I'm gonna get you one way or another.” Id. Plaintiff believes that an aggravated battery charge that was filed against him on May 7, 2018, was engineered by Hare to retaliate against Plaintiff after he refused to submit to Hare's “homosexual desires.” (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 9, 10). Hare had told Plaintiff that he wanted him sexually, after Hare found out that Plaintiff is a combat veteran and had a high-profile case. (Doc. 1, p. 10).

         Plaintiff wrote a grievance on Hare because he refused to be his victim any more. He alleges that Hare has targeted other inmates in the same way for years, and Hare needs to be stopped. After filing the instant Complaint, Plaintiff submitted several exhibits (Docs. 6, 8) indicating that an investigation had been opened on Hare, but that it was closed when Plaintiff's accusations were determined to be unfounded. (Doc. 6, p. 2). The exhibits inlcude statements from other detainees describing similar problems with Hare.

         As relief, Plaintiff wants Madison County to ensure that he and other inmates will be safe from Hare's “predatory ...

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