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Tellis v. Leblanc

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

August 23, 2018


          JUDGE FOOTE




         The Advocacy Center, on behalf of inmates at the David Wade Correctional Center (“DWCC”), filed this putative class action to seek injunctive relief with respect to the mental health care afforded inmates who are held in extended lockdown on the south compound in buildings N-1 through N-4, which are solitary confinement and extended lockdown tiers. Several months before suit was filed, counsel for the Advocacy Center wrote DWCC and demanded that it place a litigation hold on relevant evidence, specifically including video footage from cameras located in the N tiers.

         Discussions were held between the Advocacy Center and prison officials about how to preserve and transfer the recordings. In the midst of those discussions, Warden Jerry Goodwin elected to disconnect the tier cameras from hard drives that recorded the video, leaving the cameras as live view only. Before the court is the Advocacy Center's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 45) that asks the court to order prison officials to restore the video storage capacity of the tier cameras and provide copies of all video to the Advocacy Center. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the motion be denied.

         Scope of the Motion and Hearing

         The motion for preliminary injunction (Doc. 45) and memorandum in opposition (Doc. 49) set out the relevant facts in considerable detail and include supporting affidavits and other exhibits. The undersigned held a conference to discuss the motion. Counsel expressed general agreement that the principal issues-whether the court can and should order DWCC to reactivate recording of the tier cameras and provide the plaintiffs copies of the recordings-are primarily legal issues.

         Plaintiffs stated that they would like to present witnesses and evidence relevant to potential remedies, such as the relative cost and burden of proposed technical solutions. They were afforded that opportunity when the court held an evidentiary hearing on June 28, 2018. The evidence received at the hearing was largely consistent with the earlier written submissions. A summary of the relevant facts are set forth below.

         The court also discussed at the prehearing conference that any claim of spoliation and related remedies was not at issue in connection with the motion for prospective injunctive relief. It would be more appropriate to address such matters after motion practice and any required factual development that targets the spoliation issues. Minutes at Doc. 56, pg. 2.

         Relevant Facts

         DWCC is divided into two compounds: north and south. The south compound is comprised of five buildings designated as N-1 through N-4, and H-5. Buildings in N-1 through N-4 house offenders assigned to restrictive housing or maximum custody due to disciplinary issues or classification designations.

         These housing units are often referred to as tiers. They are long hallways with cells along the side. There is a shower area, referred to by some of the witnesses as a shower cage, where restraints are removed after the inmate is inside the shower. There is also a lobby area, and officers control access and communications from a key room or control room.

         Beginning in the mid-2000's, the prison installed video cameras to monitor the tiers in N-1 through N-4. The tier cameras were aimed down the hallways and did not capture video of the inside of cells (except for a few cells set aside for suicide watch). The cameras do not capture any audio. Warden Jerry Goodwin and other witnesses testified that the purpose of the cameras was to ensure that officers were making rounds at the appropriate times. The prison was not required by law or DOC policy to maintain the cameras. Warden Goodwin and other prison officials testified that rounds are now monitored by a card swipe system that requires an officer to swipe an identification card at the end of a tier to mark his presence at a certain time.

         The tier cameras are motion activated and, until recently, recorded to hard drives in five-minute increments. Once the hard drives were filled, the cameras automatically began to overwrite existing footage with new video footage. It has often been said that the hard drives stored the last 30 days of footage, but that was a mere estimate that depended on how often the motion sensors activated to commence a five-minute recording. Witnesses testified that, beginning in February 2017, oscillating fans were installed in N-1 through N-4, and their motion ...

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