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Santos v. White

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

November 30, 2017




         Before the Court is the United States Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 33) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Report and Recommendation addresses the Motion to Stay (Doc. 22), filed by Defendants Major Craig White, Sergeant Willie Washington, Captain John Wells, Colonel Allen Verret, Captain Billy Verret, Lieutenant Jarod Verret, and Lieutenant Troy Rogers. The Motion to Stay is opposed by Plaintiff, Darvin Castro Santos. (Doc. 23). Neither party objected to the Report and Recommendation.

         The Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendants' Motion to Stay be granted and the matter stayed until resolution of the related criminal proceeding pending in state court. (Doc. 33 at p. 2). The Magistrate Judge further recommended that the Clerk of Court close the above-captioned civil case for administrative and statistical purposes, pending further order from the Court. (Id.). For the reasons that follow, the Court adopts the Report and Recommendation.


         Plaintiff, an inmate at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, filed this action on September 10, 2016, for injuries sustained by him as a result of alleged excessive force and failure to intervene in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as Louisiana state law. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims that on January 28, 2016, while he was an inmate at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, he witnessed six guards (the Defendants) beating another inmate, Charlie Morris. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 7). Plaintiff claims that when he told the Defendants to stop, the Defendants jumped on him and started hitting and kicking him. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, Col. Verret grabbed him by the throat and choked him while Capt. Verret, Lt. Verret, Major White, and Capt. Wells hit him with their fists and radios and forcefully restrained him with handcuffs. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 8-9). Plaintiff claims that Defendants dragged him from D Tier Fox 6 to Beaver 2-C unit, “while hitting him and banging his head on the poles in the walkway.” (Id. at ¶ 10). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants threw him against two metal doors and beat him a second time as Defendants continued to drag him to Beaver 2-C Tier unit. (Id.).

         Plaintiff asserts that once they arrived at Beaver 2-C Tier, he was placed in the shower by Lt. Rogers. (Id.). After an extended period of time, Plaintiff asserts that Capt. Wells and Sgt. Washington ordered him to “come to the bars, ” at which point Capt. Wells sprayed him in the face with pepper spray while making racially charged statements. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-16). Plaintiff alleges that Sgt. Washington subsequently removed his handcuffs and leg irons, after which Capt. Wells ordered him to remove his clothing. (Id.). Plaintiff claims that after he complied with the orders and removed his clothing, Capt. Wells sprayed his genitals and anus with pepper spray. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-20). Plaintiff asserts that he immediately rushed toward the shower faucet to “stop the burning, ” but Capt. Wells ordered him to turn the shower off. (Id.). Capt. Wells allegedly then gave him a jumpsuit. (Id.). After Plaintiff put the jumpsuit on, Capt. Wells allegedly ordered Sgt. Washington to put Plaintiff back in the handcuffs and leg irons. (Id.). Plaintiff claims that he was then escorted by Capt. Wells and Lt. Rogers to an area between Beaver 1 and Beaver 2 units, where Capt. Wells allegedly pulled out a folded knife and threatened to kill him. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-26). Plaintiff alleges that Capt. Wells cut his hand with the knife and that Lt. Rogers subsequently drove him to the diagnostic center, where EMT's cleaned his face but refused to stitch his hand or face, “in order to keep the injuries off the record to help hide the fact that [Plaintiff] had been beaten.” (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). Although several investigators took pictures of Plaintiff's physical condition, Plaintiff claims that he never received pain medication or antibiotics for his injuries. (Id.). After the incident, Plaintiff claims that he was placed “in the Dungeon” for seven days without a shower, until he was transferred to Angola on February 17, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 38).

         On May 1, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings, asserting that Plaintiff has been charged with five (5) counts of Battery of a Correctional Employee, La. R.S. 14:34.5, arising out of the January 28, 2016, incident that forms the basis of Plaintiff's Complaint in this matter. (Doc. 22 at ¶ 3). Defendants claim that the criminal charges are currently pending in the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Parish of Iberville, State of Louisiana. (Id. at ¶ 3, n. 3). Defendants contend that if Plaintiff is ultimately convicted of these criminal charges, Plaintiff's claims of excessive use of force will be barred by the Heck doctrine, [1] which prohibits civil rights actions that would necessarily imply the invalidity of Plaintiffs criminal conviction. (Id. at ¶ 4). As such, Defendants seek a stay of these proceedings until a final determination is reached as to the criminal charges currently pending against Plaintiff in state court. (Id.).

         A. Motion to Stay

         Plaintiff originally opposed the Motion to Stay on the basis that Defendants have not provided “[a] Bill of Information, indictment or affidavit of probable cause . . . to prove any overlap in this case with a criminal proceeding.” (Doc. 23 at p. 2). Plaintiff argues that even if he is convicted of a battery charge, if Defendants used excessive or unnecessary force after Plaintiffs alleged attack on Defendants, any claims for excessive force used after that point would not be barred by Heck. (Id. at pp. 1-2).

         Because the Defendants did not provide sufficient information for the Court to determine whether the criminal charges pending against Plaintiff arise out of the same incident that forms the basis of Plaintiffs Complaint, the Magistrate Judge issued a Notice and Order on July 3, 2017, ordering Defendants to file the charging document(s) related to the criminal charges pending against Plaintiff. (Doc. 27).

         On July 6, 2017, Defendants filed a Notice of Compliance, (Doc. 28) which includes a copy of the Bill of Information filed on May 25, 2016, by an assistant district attorney (Doc. 28-1) and a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Stay Proceedings (the “Supplemental Memorandum”). (Doc. 28-2). The Bill of Information states that on January 28, 2016, Plaintiff committed a battery on “Capt. Verrett” by hitting him with a closed fist, Plaintiff committed a battery upon Lt. Martel and Sgt. Collins[2] by spitting blood in their faces, and Plaintiff committed a battery upon Major White and “Col. Verrett” by spitting on them.[3] (Doc. 28-1 at p. 2). In the Supplemental Memorandum, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs criminal charges are “due to Plaintiffs actions in the incident on January 28, 2016, that forms the basis of Plaintiffs Complaint.” (Doc. 28-2 at p. 1). Defendants assert that, “[t]he crucial aspect of these criminal charges set forth in the Bill of Information regards the striking of Capt. Verret with a closed fist” and the fact that “Plaintiff makes no factual allegations that he struck Capt. Verret with a closed fist at any time during this incident, for self-defense or otherwise.”[4] (Doc. 28-2 at p. 2).

         In response, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants have failed to show any factual overlap between the allegations in the Complaint and the criminal charges in the Bill of Information. (Doc. 29). Plaintiff points out that while the Bill of Information states that the offenses occurred on January 28, 2016, there is no indication as to whether the offenses occurred before, during or after the officers allegedly used excessive force against Plaintiff. (Id.). Because the Complaint alleges that Capt. Verret began hitting Plaintiff after Plaintiff was handcuffed, Plaintiff asserts that the only time he could have hit Capt. Verret was before Plaintiff was placed in handcuffs. (Doc. 29 at pp. 1-2) (citing Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 8-12). Thus, Plaintiff argues that if he did hit Capt. Verret, Capt. Verret's use of excessive force was likely retaliatory and Plaintiff's conviction for battery of an officer would not necessarily be invalidated if Plaintiff is successful on his excessive force claim. (Id.). Plaintiff makes the same arguments with respect to Major White and Col. Verret, and asserts that the remaining Defendants, Capt. John Wells, Sgt. Willie Washington, Lt. Jarod Verret and Lt. Troy Rogers, have made no showing that they are entitled to a stay of these proceedings under Heck. (Id.).


         In Heck v. Humphrey, the Supreme Court held that, “when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). The Supreme Court further held, “[I]f it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.” Id. Thus, “A § 1983 claim which falls under the rule in Heck is legally frivolous unless the conviction or sentence at issue has been reversed, expunged, invalidated, or otherwise called into question.” Hamilton v. Lyons, 74 F.3d 99, 102 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Boyd v. Biggers, 31 F.3d 279, 283 (5th Cir. 1994)). Further, “[T]he Heck rule applies only when there has been a conviction or ...

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