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Dawson v. Wells

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 27, 2019



          Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, an inmate at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution (EOCI), filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleged that defendants brought false misconduct charges against him in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights. Defendants now move for summary judgment on grounds that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and cannot sustain his claim on the merits. I find that defendants' involvement in the misconduct charges against plaintiff advanced a legitimate correctional goal, and defendants are entitled to summary judgment.


         In 2015, plaintiff received a favorable settlement in a case brought against Oregon prison officials. Plaintiff alleges that Officers Watson and Wells subsequently made sarcastic comments about plaintiff's lawsuit and other grievances, referred to plaintiff as “esquire” or “legal beagle, ” and told plaintiff that he could not “sue us for this one” after plaintiff was given a disciplinary sanction in June 2016 for prohibited conduct.[1] Compl. ¶¶ 9, 14-16, 19 (ECF No. 2).

         On January 3, 2017, plaintiff reported to EOCI officers that his cellmate, Benton, had a weapon. Plaintiff also gave a note to an officer that said, “12B knife in drawer for staff assault.” Defs.' Ex. 1 at 1; Defs.' Ex. 2 at 21 (ECF Nos. 87, 88).[2] Plaintiff stated that “he wanted no part of it and that he was not going back to the cell until it was taken care of.” Defs.' Ex. 2 at 21. Correctional officers searched the cell and eventually found two homemade knives - made from razor blades, a toothbrush, and shampoo labels - in Benton's drawer. Defs.' Ex. 1 at 1. Benton and plaintiff were placed in disciplinary segregation. Plaintiff requested that he be moved to housing unit E-4, and plaintiff's request was granted. Watson Decl. ¶ 9 (ECF No. 71). Benton remained in disciplinary segregation until his disciplinary hearings.

         On January 4, 2017, plaintiff claims that an inmate in E-4 approached him and said, “Officer Watson told me to tell you good job setting up your cellmate.” Compl. ¶ 22. Plaintiff claims this statement made him fearful that Officer Watson was spreading rumors about him.[3]

         On January 7, Officer Watson informed Inspector Troy Holman that “something just doesn't seem right about the incident that happened with Inmate Benton.” Defs.' Ex. 2 at 11. Officer Watson explained:

Inmate Benston was locked up while he was at work because he supposedly had a weapon in his cell. He cellie Inmate Dawson…came to the Officer station and reported to Officer Garton that his cellie had a weapon and was planning to assault staff. So staff came and found a weapon in his cell…and they locked up Inmate Benton while he was at work. The weird part to me is that for the last 4 months I've been on the 5 day on B2[.] Inmate Dawson has been pestering me about helping him move to the East side. Constantly asking me to email Lt. Carey to get him moved. I kept telling Dawson to send kytes and that when he was eligible he would probably get moved. At one point I told Dawson he would not be getting moved to the East side and to stop bugging me. Dawson [alluded] to the idea that if I didn't move him he would have to come up with his own way. (that is my opinion)…Magically after they locked up Benton, Inmate Dawson was moved to the East side to the unit he wanted to move to. If nothing comes of it oh well, it just seemed a little off that this old man with no misconduct history would suddenly want to make a weapon and assault staff and the one who told on him is a guy with an extensive misconduct history who is known to be manipulative.

Id. This information was forwarded to the Hearings Officer conducting Benton's disciplinary hearing.

         On January 9 and 13, 2017, disciplinary hearings were conducted regarding the charges against Benton. Defs.' Ex. 2 at 1. Benton denied making the weapons and claimed that his drawer had a gap, even when locked, that would allow someone to place the knives in his drawer. Officer Watson was called as a witness and provided several mitigating statements. Id.

         The Hearings Officer had asked Officer Watson to determine whether the drawer had a gap that would allow someone to place the knives in the locked drawer. Id. at 12. Ultimately, on January 13, 2017, the charges against Benton were dismissed for insufficient evidence. Id. at 1-2.

         The same day, Officer Wells issued a Misconduct Report charging plaintiff with violating Possession of a Weapon I, Property I, and Disobedience of an Order I. Defs.' Ex. 1 at 4. Officer Wells apparently had been the Security Office for Benton's hearing. The Report stated:

On 1-3-17 Inmate Paul Dawson…handed Officer T. Garton a hand written note that said (12-B knife in drawer for staff assault). A search of cell 12 bunk B was conducted by Officers T. Garton and J. Mitchell. There were 2 weapons found in the locked drawer of [Inmate Benton]. The two weapons were razor blades attached to a half of toothbrush, packaged in a small zip lock baggie with Q-tips, see attached photos. At the time of both the information being passed to staff and the search for the weapon, Inmate Benton was at work in the Kitchen.
Inmate Benson was escorted to DSU and had his Administrate Hearing today Upon the conclusion of Inmate Benson's Administrative Hearing it was decided by Hearing Officer H. Nevel that there was insufficient evidence to find Inmate Benson in violation of any rule The hearing was dismissed for insufficient evidence.
During the investigation numerous documents were submitted by staff members providing documentation that leads one to believe that Inmate Dawson made the weapons and planted the weapons in inmate Benson's locked drawer after he had gone to work. He then notified staff of the weapon. It would appear he did this for two reasons, one had didn't like Inmate Benson and two he knew if he provided staff with intel concerning a weapon the administration would be liable for his safety and he would be moved to the East side of the Institution. See memo from officer Szilagyi Assignment Officer.
There were two inmates assigned to cell 12 Inmate Dawson and Inmate Benson. It has already been determined by an administrative hearing [that] Inmate Benson was not the maker or owner of the weapons. No. other inmates are allowed into a cell except for the ones assigned to that cell.


         On January 24, 2017, a telephonic disciplinary hearing was conducted regarding the allegations against plaintiff. Id. at 1-2. Officer Wells was the Security Officer present at plaintiff's hearing.[4] The Hearings Officer noted that Officer Watson had confirmed Benton's drawer had an opening wide enough to allow ...

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