Judge rules against Philly inmate who fled during strip search; Prisoner was seeking more than $150K

By Nicholas Malfitano | May 21, 2015

PHILADELPHIA – On May 4, on their second attempt, the City of Philadelphia and other defendants won a motion for summary judgment against an incarcerated man who claims he was subjected to an unlawful strip search and other civil rights violations.

PHILADELPHIA – On May 4, on their second attempt, the City of Philadelphia and other defendants won a motion for summary judgment against an incarcerated man who claims he was subjected to an unlawful strip search and other civil rights violations.

William Jackson filed suit against the City of Philadelphia, Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility Warden John P. Delaney, City Prison System Commissioner Louis P. Giorla, and Corrections Officers Lt. Adella Holt, David Woodards-Bey, Damien Woodards plus six unknown officers in July 2011.

Jackson, a pre-trial detainee at Curran-Fromhold from June 29, 2009, to Jan. 14, 2011, claimed on July 23, 2009, he and two other inmates were subjected to a random strip search by correctional officers, including defendant Damien Woodards. This search came as a result of Jackson’s cellmate informing another officer that Jackson was allegedly hiding drugs in his boxer shorts.

During the search, Officer Woodards noticed Jackson was holding something in his mouth and alerted a fellow officer to this fact, and Jackson proceeded to run into the yard and remove the substance from his mouth in an attempt to throw it down a nearby drain.

Following this, Jackson was handcuffed by the officers and taken to the prison’s medical facility after allegedly assaulting several correctional officers, including Officer Woodards. Jackson was later transferred into state custody on an unrelated charge in January 2011.

Jackson filed his initial complaint in July 2011, followed by an amended version in October 2011. It is the amended version which contains the charges Jackson levied against the defendants, claiming his constitutional rights were violated through unlawful search and seizure, excessive force, plus cruel and unusual punishment.

In the incident, Jackson claimed to have sustained “multiple serious injuries, some or all of which may be permanent, including, but not limited to, broken and chipped teeth; concussions; post-traumatic cephalgia and headaches; facial and lip bruising; lacerations and scarring; severe shock and injury to his nerves and nervous system; mental, psychological and emotional distress, embarrassment, anxiety and humiliation; and other injuries some or all of which have yet to become manifest and/or be diagnosed.”

The defendants claimed strip searches were only done to confirm the safety and security of the prison facility, and to deter the trafficking of illegal contraband onto the premises.

Under the Philadelphia prison system policy for inmate grievances, an inmate may file a written grievance within 10 days of the incident in question. However, the defendants say prison records show a grievance regarding the alleged illegal search was never filed, and a grievance regarding the alleged excessive force wasn’t filed until a month or two after the July 23, 2009 incident.

In December 2011, Jackson was once again a pre-trial detainee in the Philadelphia prison system when he pled guilty to charges arising from the July 23, 2009 incident. These charges included recklessly endangering defendant Officer Woodards, aggravated assault on Officer David Robinson, aggravated assault on defendant Lt. Adella Holt and possession of a controlled substance by an inmate.

Following his guilty plea, Jackson was transferred back into state custody and is currently housed at the Coal Township Correctional Facility.

Pending resolution of the charges to which Jackson pled guilty, the case was placed in civil suspense for nearly two years, from December 2011 to October 2013. At that time, the defendants filed their first motion for summary judgment, which was struck down by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in March 2014.

However, the defendants filed a second motion for summary judgment in December, bringing the matter before Judge Thomas N. O’Neill, Jr. O’Neill issued his decision on the matter on May 4.

O’Neill labeled Jackson’s earlier grievance filing “untimely” and found “defendants have offered sufficient evidence to establish that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and plaintiff has offered nothing in return to show that there is a triable factual dispute material to this question,” thereby dismissing the charges of alleged civil rights violations under the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Further, O’Neill found Jackson had not proven the defendants liable for the other charges levied against them, including assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, dismissing them also.

“Plaintiff has produced no competent medical evidence to support his claim that defendants’ conduct caused him emotional distress,” O’Neill said.

“On the record before me there is no evidence that any defendant used force, assaulted or strip searched plaintiff with the knowledge that their conduct was unlawful.

“As defendants contend, ‘In fact, the plaintiff pled guilty to assaulting Lt. Holt and CO Robinson, to recklessly endangering CO Woodards, and to possession of an illegal controlled substance.’”

At that point, O’Neill dismissed all claims and entered a verdict of summary judgment for all of the defendants.

The plaintiff had been seeking in excess of $150,000 in this matter, plus punitive damages, delay damages and court costs.

The plaintiff was represented by Rania Major-Trunfio in Philadelphia.

The defendants were represented by Matthew K. Hubbard of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department.

U.S. Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania case 2:11-cv-04643

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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