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Charlton v. Yepez

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

June 27, 2019



          Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge

         Bobby Shane Charlton brings this civil rights action against seventeen Oregon prison officials. Mr. Charlton alleges in relevant part that he was the victim of both excessive force and deliberate medical neglect while an inmate at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution. He asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process and Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.[1] Defendants move for summary judgment as to each of Mr. Charlton's claims. Although no reasonable jury could find that any defendant used excessive force against Mr. Charlton or that Mr. Charlton was denied procedural due process, there remains a genuine dispute of fact as to whether eight of the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is therefore GRANTED in part.


         Bobby Shane Charlton was an inmate at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution (“EOCI”) from September 9, 2014 to June 24, 2015. Yepez Decl. ¶ 4. On the night of December 23, 2014, Mr. Charlton was involved in a physical altercation with Francisco Yepez, a correctional officer at EOCI. Charlton Decl. 1; Yepez Decl. ¶¶ 7-9. The altercation occurred in the television room of the A-3 housing unit and, during the altercation, Officer Yepez discharged oleoresin capsicum spray (“pepper spray”) into the face and body of Mr. Charlton. Charlton Decl. 1; Yepez Decl. ¶¶ 5-6, 9. Mr. Charlton was removed from the television room shortly after the altercation and taken to the Disciplinary Segregation Unit (“DSU”). Charlton Decl. 1-2; Walker Decl. ¶ 8. He remained in disciplinary segregation until December 26. Charlton Decl. 3; Walker Decl. ¶¶ 19-20.

         The parties agree that Officer Yepez and Mr. Charlton engaged in a verbal exchange prior to their physical altercation. At approximately 8:30 PM, Officer Yepez was walking through the television room when Mr. Charlton stated to him, “Look, I'm turning around in the TV room.” Yepez Decl. ¶ 5. This comment was made in response to an earlier admonishment by Officer Yepez that Mr. Charlton should stop “turning in his chair and talking” while other inmates are watching television. Yepez Decl. ¶¶ 5-6. Officer Yepez, perceiving the remark as “inappropriate and disrespectful, ” returned to the small Officer's Station at the back of the room and summoned Mr. Charlton over the public address system. Charlton Decl. 1; Yepez Decl. ¶¶ 6-7.

         On Mr. Charlton's version of events, Officer Yepez proceeded to “initiate[ ] an argument that resulted in his use of [pepper spray], ” though Mr. Charlton makes no other representations about the substance of that argument or why it resulted in the use of force. See Charlton Decl. 1-3. Officer Yepez recounts that he asked Mr. Charlton why he had “mock[ed]” him in the television room and that Mr. Charlton “denied” having done so. Yepez Decl. ¶ 7. Apparently not satisfied with Mr. Charlton's denial, Officer Yepez ordered him back to his cell. Yepez Decl. ¶ 7. Instead of following the order, Mr. Charlton “came around the [sliding door of] bars and entered the officer's station while complaining about the rules.” Yepez Decl. ¶ 7.

         According to Officer Yepez, Mr. Charlton ignored two more directives to exit the Officer's Station and “rushed toward[ ]” Officer Yepez, yelling “I'll show you what disrespect is.” Yepez Decl. ¶ 7. Mr. Charlton then “began throwing closed fist blows” to Officer Yepez's head. Yepez Decl. ¶ 7. Officer Yepez recalls that the blows dislodged his glasses and “pushed [him] back into the corner of the officer's station.” Yepez Decl. ¶ 8. After activating his body alarm and calling for help, Officer Yepez “used a focused blow” to Mr. Charlton's head and created a “small amount of distance” from Mr. Charlton. Yepez Decl. ¶ 9. This allowed Officer Yepez to retrieve his pepper spray and “deliver one short burst” to Mr. Charlton's face. Yepez Decl. ¶ 9.

         Mr. Charlton states that, upon being hit with the pepper spray, he “entered an altered [and] confused state of consciousness with a memory black-out [sic].” Charlton Decl. 1. This lapse in memory notwithstanding, Mr. Charlton recalls, and Officer Yepez agrees, that he asked Officer Yepez, “[W]hy did you spray me?” Charlton Decl. 1; Yepez Decl. ¶ 9. According to Mr. Charlton, Officer Yepez then “used a continuous stream of [pepper spray] directly into [his] face, neck[, ] and upper body.” Charlton Decl. 1. The stream of pepper spray continued even as Mr. Charlton “exited the station and had turned [his] back to [Officer Yepez].” Charlton Decl. 1. Officer Yepez contends that Mr. Charlton “advanced on him again” after the initial burst of pepper spray, prompting him to use the “continuous stream” of spray. Yepez Decl. ¶ 9.

         In addition to the parties' own accounts, the record also includes surveillance footage of the argument and ensuing physical altercation. See Walker Decl. Att. 4 (“Att.”). Although the footage is without audio and captured from across the television room, it clearly shows the movements of both parties. In the footage, Mr. Charlton can be seen walking over to the Officer's Station and speaking with Officer Yepez. Att. 4 at 02:30-50. The exchange lasts about twenty seconds and, during that time, Officer Yepez remains calmly seated behind the counter. Att. 4 at 02:30-50. The exchange escalates when Mr. Charlton abruptly places his water container on the ground and walks around the counter. Att. 4 at 02:50-53. The parties, now face-to-face inside the Officer's Station, continue talking for about 3 seconds. Att. 4 at 02:53-56.

         At that point, Officer Yepez begins to stand and reach his left hand back for a cannister of pepper spray. Att. 4 at 02:50-56. Before Officer Yepez can bring his arm forward, however, Mr. Charlton grabs it with his right hand and strikes Officer Yepez in the face. Att. 4 at 02:56-58. For the next thirty seconds, Mr. Charlton delivers blow after blow to the head and neck area of Officer Yepez, who gets pinned in the back corner of the Officer's Station. Att. 4 at 02:57-03:27. When Officer Yepez finally delivers a direct blow to Mr. Charlton's head, Mr. Charlton staggers back and Officer Yepez is able to bend down and retrieve his pepper spray from the floor. Att. 4 at 03:27-29. Although the spray itself is not captured by the surveillance footage, Officer Yepez can be seen pointing the spray canister at Mr. Charlton's face. Att. 4 at 03:29. Mr. Charlton delivers several more blows before recoiling when Officer Yepez trains the canister on him a second time. Att. 4 at 03:33-35. Now clutching his face, Mr. Charlton turns to exit the Officer's Station but, before fully exiting, turns back to hurl a radio at Officer Yepez. Att. 4 at 03:35-37.

         The parties agree that Mr. Charlton was next subdued by several responding officers and escorted to the DSU. Charlton Decl. 1-2; Walker Decl. ¶ 8. Officer Yepez, for his part, was transported to a nearby hospital and treated for a broken nose. Yepez Decl. ¶ 11. In photographs taken shortly after the incident, Officer Yepez's face is covered in blood and the front of his shirt stained with splashes of the same. Att. 3 at 47. Separate photographs show the bottoms of Mr. Charlton's shirt sleeves saturated with blood and his face covered with pepper spray and mucus. Att. 7 at 1-2, 5-6. Although no blood is visible on his face, Mr. Charlton's skin appears red and inflamed where it has been contacted by the pepper spray. Att. 7 at 5-6, 7-9.

         According to Mr. Charlton, “despite the clear fact” that he was “covered” with pepper spray and “desperately needed either medical attention” or a “shower, ” he was promptly “chained to the wall in a small [DSU] holding cell [with] no running water, no toilet, no bed, and no ventilation.” Charlton Decl. 1-2. Officer Fitzgerald notes that pepper spray was visible on Mr. Charlton's “face, hands, and clothing” immediately after the altercation and at least one officer in the DSU recalls that Mr. Charlton was “complaining about the effects of the [pepper spray].” Att. 3 at 18, 32. Sergeant Arguello states that, “due to [Mr.] Charlton being sprayed, ” he was issued “the proper towels to help clean up the spray” and monitored by Officers Duncan, Reidmann, and Olsen for “30 minutes in order to assist him to decontaminate.” Att. 3 at 38. Mr. Charlton, however, contends that he was provided only with “a small thin facecloth” and that the facecloth just “served to spread the [pepper spray] and rub it into [his] skin.” Charlton Decl. 2; see also Att. 3 at 14.

         Mr. Charlton also recalls that he requested and was denied decontamination or other medical attention on three separate occasions. See Charlton Decl. 2-3.

         On the first occasion, at 8:55 PM, Mr. Charlton states that he asked “to see a doctor” when Officer Reidmann and Nurse Persinger entered his cell to conduct an “unclothed body search.” Charlton Decl. 2. According to Mr. Charlton, Nurse Persinger, who had covered her face in a “surgical mask to avoid the strong fumes, ” stated that she would “make sure” Mr. Charlton did not see a doctor. Charlton Decl. 2. On the second occasion, at 9:05 PM, Mr. Charlton states that he “plea[ded] for relief from the agony” when Officers Duncan, Olsen, and Reidmann entered his cell to adjust his restraints, but was again denied help. Charlton Decl. 2. On the final occasion, at 10:55 PM, Mr. Charlton states that he “started banging the back of [his] head against the cell wall to get attention to [his] pain, discomfort[, ] and medical needs.” Charlton Decl. 2. In response, Officers Duncan, Willingham, Kropornicki, and Reidmann, as well as Sergeant Arguello and Nurse Persinger, entered his cell, but only to apply new restraints. Charlton Decl. 2-3.

         At 12:45 AM on December 24, Lieutenant Peters, who had been in the vicinity of Mr. Charlton's cell for the prior two hours, determined that Mr. Charlton was calm enough to be released from his restraints. Att. 3 at 42. He supervised as several other officers removed the restraints and had Mr. Charlton moved to a new DSU cell on “suicide watch.” Charlton Decl. 3; Walker Decl. ¶ 16; Att. 3 at 42. According to Mr. Charlton, the new cell had “no soap or effective running water” and officers “would only turn on . . . enough water [for him] to have a very short drink or flush the toilet.” Charlton Decl. 3. He was moved to a DSU cell with running water on December 25, but it was not until December 26 that Mr. Charlton was finally “allowed to shower.” Charlton Decl. 2; see also Walker Decl. ¶ 20 (noting no running water until December 26).

         Mr. Charlton recounts that, for the duration of this four-day ordeal, the pepper spray was “in [his] eyes and nose, ” as well as “eating into [his] skin, ” causing a “constant burning pain.” Charlton Decl. 3. He alleges that “[t]he skin on [his] face, neck, upper chest[, ] and back has been permanently damaged” and “continues to burn and itch.” Charlton Decl. 3. Mr. Charlton further claims that, despite his “crying need to get to the showers/proper medical care, ” each of the named defendants “did nothing . . . but unnecessarily let [him] suffer great pain and lasting injury.” Charlton Decl. 3. ...

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