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Leite v. Goulet

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

June 20, 2018

Jonathan Leite
Matthew Goulet, et al.

          Lynmarie C. Cusack, Esq.

          Megan E. Douglass, Esq.

          Francis Charles Fredericks, Esq.

          Benjamin T. King, Esq.



         Jonathan Leite, a former inmate at Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility ("NCF"), brings suit against several NCF corrections officers alleging violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Leite's claims arise from an inmate-on-inmate assault during his incarceration that caused him to suffer a traumatic brain injury. He alleges that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his health and safety by both failing to protect him from the assault to begin with and failing to provide him with timely medical attention in its aftermath. With discovery closed, the defendants now move for summary judgment on all of Leite's claims. For the reasons discussed herein, I grant defendants' motion in full.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On Friday, August 24, 2012, at or around 2:40 p.m., Leite was severely beaten inside Cell 9 of NCF's "F-block" by several other inmates. The beating left him dazed and debilitated. He suffered skull and facial fractures, intracranial bleeding, and residual cognitive and psychiatric effects as a result. Following the assault, inmates kept Leite hidden inside the cell, which was not his own, until 4:20 p.m. when the inmates moved him back to his bunk in the open cellblock. He thereafter lay motionless in his bed for almost an hour. Leite did not receive medical attention until 5:10 p.m., shortly after corrections officers claim they first discovered his injuries.

         Leite seeks damages from four corrections officers who were on duty when he was attacked or shortly thereafter: Lynn McLain, Kathy Bergeron, Trevor Dube, and Ejike Esobe.[1] In the sections that follow, I describe the scene of the assault and discuss relevant NCF security procedures. I then examine the events surrounding Leite's assault in greater detail. Other than what each defendant saw or knew, the material facts are largely uncontested.

         A. NCF F-Block & Relevant Security Procedures

         F-block is one of NCF's eight housing units. At the time of the assault it housed 69 inmates, including Leite. Doc. No. 38-3 at 3; Doc. No. 38-4. The rectangular cellblock consists of a large, open room with a mezzanine level. It holds 30 cells, split between the two levels. The cells surround an 80-by-29 foot common area known as the "dayroom" on three sides. The dayroom contains tables, a laundry machine, and a workout station. It is used by all F-block inmates throughout any given day and is connected to the mezzanine by an open staircase in the middle of the cellblock. Adjacent to the staircase, along the cell-less fourth wall of the block, is a row of five bunkbeds known as the "dayroom bunks" that serve as temporary housing for inmates newly assigned to F-block. On the date of the assault, Leite was assigned to "Bunk IT, " the top bunk closest to the base of the staircase. Jason Gelinas, who helped plan the attack on Leite, was assigned to Cell 9, also on the floor level and fifteen-to-twenty yards across from Bunk IT.

         Corrections officers did not maintain a constant physical presence on F-block in August 2012. Doc. No. 38-3 at 8. Instead, as with other housing units, F-block was monitored by periodic physical "checks" and security cameras. Corrections officers monitored the blocks over the course of three eight-hour shifts. See id. at 8-9. Physical checks were predominantly conducted using "counts" and "rounds." During counts, officers were required to physically identify and account for each inmate housed on the cellblock. See Doc. No. 42 at 2; Doc. No. 50-3 at 20. Counts were primarily meant to ensure that each inmate was both physically present and "alive and well." Doc. No. 42 at 3. "Formal" scheduled counts were required at least four times per 24-hour period, see Doc. No. 42 at 2, but were typically conducted five to six times daily, or about twice per eight-hour shift. See Doc. No. 38-3 at 8; Doc. No. 38-26 at 3; Doc. No. 50-3 at 20. With the exception of the 11:00 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. counts, all counts required inmates to be out of bed and standing. Doc. No. 38-26 at 3; Doc. No. 50-3 at 20. To ensure accurate identification and each inmate's well-being, officers conducting counts were required to "see movement of bare skin or talk with (hear from) the inmate." Doc. No. 42 at 3.

         Rounds required corrections officers to periodically walk through the cellblocks to "evaluate safety, security, and sanitation." Doc. No. 42 at 3. Rounds were conducted at least once an hour on a staggered basis to prevent the detection of predictable patterns. See id. at 2; Doc. No. 38-3 at 8-9. Officers conducting rounds, typically two at a time, were required to "gauge" the "attitude" of the inmates as they walked through the cellblock to ensure that no infractions were occurring and that all inmates were safe. Doc. No. 50-3 at 4. Officers were also "supposed to" look through the five-by-20 inch, open-air window on every cell door as they surveyed the cell rows, see, e.g., Doc. No. 50-3 at 4; Doc. No. 38-33 at 14; see also Doc. No. 50-2 at 8, and to "check the bunks" in the day room, see Doc. No. 50-13 at 3, 5; "to make sure everything[ was] normal on the unit." Doc. No. 50-3 at 10. If an inmate appeared to be sleeping during rounds, some, but not all, officers routinely approached the inmate to ensure that he was breathing, or to look for blood, see Doc. No. 50-9 at 2-3; Doc. No. 50-13 at 5, but there is no evidence that the practice was mandatory. Other officers regularly conducted rounds quickly, without checking bathrooms, closets, or cells. See Doc. No. 38-2 at 59.

         Rounds differed from counts in that rounds did not require officers to confirm the identity and physical location of each individual inmate, but were meant to ensure that no prohibited behavior was occurring. See Doc. No. 50-3 at 21; Doc. No. 50-9 at 2-3. Typical infractions identified during rounds included inmates tattooing one another, using drugs, fighting, or "cell hopping, " which refers to inmates visiting cells to which they were not assigned. See Doc. No. 50-3 at 10-11. Officers conducting rounds also frequently fielded questions from inmates as they arose. On average, a properly conducted round took three to four minutes to complete, barring some occurrence requiring further attention. See Doc. No. 53-3 at 10.

         In addition to counts and rounds, corrections officers monitored inmates' housing units through a closed-circuit video surveillance system. Each housing unit had two cameras that streamed live visual feeds of each cellblock's dayroom to control rooms operated by corrections officers. Doc. No. 50-3 at 14. F-block's two cameras, feeding channels 29 and 30, were positioned on opposite ends of the cellblock, mounted high near the ceiling. Together, they provided views of the entire F-block dayroom, except for limited blind spots, most floor-level cell doors, the staircase, the dayroom bunks, and parts of the mezzanine. Each camera provided one fixed angle, with no audio. Neither captured the inside of any individual cell, closet, or bathroom.

         The two F-block cameras streamed to monitors in a control room known as "control point 5, " or "CP5, " operated by a single corrections officer. Doc. No. 50-3 at 13. The CP5 officer was tasked with operating all doors within the "upper housing and industries area[s], " monitoring those areas, answering calls from other areas in the facility, and paging inmates to come to health services, hearings, or other appointments as the need arose. Doc. No. 38-20 at 1-2; Doc. No. 50-6 at 3, 11. The upper housing and industries areas included F-block, three other housing units, offices, industrial shops, a long corridor, and a stairwell. Doc. No. 38-20 at 1-2; Doc. No. 50-6 at 3, 11. The industries area, which was visible from the CP5 station itself, was positioned behind the CP5 officer's chair, opposite the control panel. Doc. No. 50-6 at 10. All other areas were monitored with security cameras, of which there were at least 12, whose views were accessible on either of two video monitors. Doc. No. 38-20 at 1-2.

         The views on both monitors could be switched by using a touch screen at the CP5 officer's control. Doc. No. 38-20 at 1-2. On one of the screens, CP5 officers would typically leave a view of the corridor displayed due to that area's frequent traffic. See Doc. No. 38-1 at 6; Doc. No. 38-20 at 2. On the other screen, CP5 officers would typically toggle through views of the four upper-housing units, one at a time, to monitor inmate activity. See Doc. No. 38-20 at 3. If an inmate or staff member in any one of the four housing units pressed a "call button" to contact CP5, the screen typically showing the hallway temporarily switched to a view of that person. See Doc. No. 38-20 at 2; Doc. No. 50-6 at 10. After the CP5 operator responded to the call by opening the relevant set of doors, the screen returned to a view of the hall, making it "hard to not have it [fixed] on the hall all the time." Doc. No. 50-6 at 3.

         B. The Assault

         On August 24, 2012, Corrections Officer Lynn McLain was stationed in CP5 for "first shift, " covering 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The F-block video footage recovered from CP5 on that date showed that Leite entered F-block at 2:34 p.m. and proceeded to his bed, Bunk IT. See Doc. No. 38-11.[2] While changing his shirt and tidying his bunk, Leite was approached by inmate Gelinas, [3] and the two conversed unremarkably. At approximately 2:38 p.m., Gelinas stepped away from Leite to attend to some laundry at a nearby bin. With Leite's back turned to Gelinas, Gelinas subtly made a slashing motion across his neck from left to right. See Doc. No. 50-7 at 13. He repeated the gesture seconds later.

         At 2:39 p.m., Leite walked over to Cell 9 and entered. Shortly thereafter, at 2:41 p.m., two other inmates entered Cell 9 in a hurried sequence, separated by only a few seconds. Neither of the two men, later determined to be Matthew Garcia and Sean Lavallee, were assigned to Cell 9. All the while, Gelinas walked somewhat aimlessly around the day room and was eventually lost in the crowd.

         Beginning at 2:42 p.m., several inmates began to crowd around Cell 9. Some appeared to be looking inside the cell through the door window, some leaned against the exterior wall, and others generally loitered or walked past the cell. Those inmates eventually dispersed at approximately 2:46 p.m. At that time, one of the inmates emerged from cell 9, wiped his brow, and swiftly walked up the staircase to the upper level. Seconds later, another shirtless inmate emerged from Cell 9, quickly walked over to Bunk IT, retrieved clothing from below the bunk, and returned to the cell. He repeated this exercise twice more over the next two minutes. At 2:49 p.m., he reemerged and started for Bunk IT for the fourth time, but hesitated. Before reaching the bunk, he slowed and pointed toward it, arm fully extended as he looked back at the cell. He then grabbed a pillow from the top bunk, collected more clothing, and returned to Cell 9. From 2:50 p.m. to 2:57 p.m., different inmates continued to enter and exit Cell 9 at intervals ranging from ten to forty seconds, with others stopping occasionally to peer into the cell through the door's window.

         After an investigation, the officers learned that Leite was attacked in Cell 9 by Garcia and Lavallee shortly after he entered the cell at 2:39 p.m. Gelinas was involved in orchestrating the assault, which lasted anywhere from two to ten minutes.[4] Doc. No. 38-27 at 3; see Doc. No. 50-7 at 14; see also Doc. 38-34 at 6.[5] Because the assault left Leite "disoriented, " vomiting, and generally "[un]aware of his surroundings, " Gelinas and other inmates kept Leite inside Cell 9 until 4:20 p.m. to conceal him from corrections officers. Doc. No. 38-27 at 3-4. Gelinas put Leite in the bottom bunk in Cell 9 and "made it look like he was sleeping." Doc. No. 38-27 at 3. Gelinas and other inmates cleaned the area of any blood and vomit, kept ice on Leite's head to keep him "cool" and "awake, " and "flushed" much of the remaining evidence. Id. at 4. As Gelinas admits, they did this for the specific purpose of evading detection.

         At 3:00 p.m. there was a shift change from first shift to second. Corrections Officer Ejike Esobe, another defendant, took over the CP5 post from Officer McLain. At 3:40 p.m., Corrections Officers Kathy Bergeron and Trevor Dube, who are also defendants, entered F-block to conduct rounds. Officer Dube, the "officer in charge" for that shift, see Doc. No. 38-28 at 1, surveyed the mezzanine, while Officer Bergeron surveyed the floor-level cells. Both officers entered the cellblock on the floor level from the same door. Officer Dube proceeded through the back half of the dayroom to the staircase, climbed the stairs, surveyed the mezzanine cell row, and exited the cellblock. Officer Bergeron walked along the floor-level cells, eventually reaching and passing Cell 9, checked the bathroom and closet, and exited through a different door on the floor level. The rounds were conducted briskly, with both officers making their way through the cellblock in a minute or less. Both officers reported that all was "clear" on F-block at that time. The video evidence does not clearly depict whether Officer Bergeron looked into Cell 9 as she passed, but she now claims that she did and saw nothing amiss. Doc. No. 38-16 at 3.

         Video footage showed that Gelinas finally released Leite from Cell 9 at 4:20 p.m. Leite emerged from the cell, initially on his feet, shirtless, and barefoot. His legs gave out almost instantly as he took his second step away from the cell. He fell hard to the ground, landing on his backside, with his legs split apart. He then slowly shifted around in an attempt to stand back up. Gelinas then emerged from Cell 9, stepped toward Leite as he struggled on the floor, but hesitated and returned to the cell. Seconds later, Gelinas re-emerged and grabbed Leite by the arm to help him to his feet. Gelinas then hurriedly walked Leite ...

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