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Staples v. NH State Prison Warden

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

July 3, 2018

Frank Staples
NH State Prison Warden, et al.


          Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge.

         Frank Staples, a former inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison, is a practicing Taoist. He invoked his religious beliefs when refusing to comply with a prison policy that prohibits inmates from having beards longer than 1/4 inch. He then challenged the beard policy and asserted additional claims against multiple prison officials in successive lawsuits. In a prior order, I dismissed Staples' claims that the defendants violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by attempting to enforce the beard policy against him. Staples v. NH State Prison, Warden, 2017 DNH 046. I also determined that Staples could not recover on his claims based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. Staples v. NH State Prison, Warden, 2017 DNH 023.

         Staples' remaining claims allege that Correctional Officer Robert Parent used excessive force against him on September 12, 2013, and Correctional Officer Scott Marshall used excessive force and unlawfully retaliated against him on July 25, 2015. This Memorandum and Order addresses defendants' summary judgment motion challenging both claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. 2013 Incident

         On September 12, 2013, prison officials attempted to transfer Staples and six other inmates from the Special Housing Unit (SHU) to the Closed Custody Unit (CCU). Doc. No. 49-2 at 8. At the time, Parent was the sergeant in charge of the CCU. Doc. No. 49-13 at 8.

         CCU inmates are required to comply with the prison's beard policy. Doc. No. 49-13 at 10. Accordingly, Staples and the other inmates were brought to Parent's office without handcuffs and he instructed them to shave. Doc. No. 49-2 at 10. Staples, however, repeatedly refused to comply with Parent's directive. Id. at 8. During one exchange, Parent told Staples that he needed to comply because “[t]his is my unit [and] I control my unit.” Id. Staples responded by saying “[t]his is my face, and I control my face.” Id. Eventually, Parent told Staples “[a]ll right, I am going to send you back to SHU PC.”[1] Id. When Staples again refused to shave, Parent handed Staples a statement form and instructed him to “write down why you want a PC.” Id. Staples refused to sign the form and instead held it in front of Parent at arm's length and tore it in half. Id. at 11. Parent responded by grabbing Staples' right arm, forcefully turning and pushing him into a concrete support pillar, and handcuffing him behind his back. Id. Staples hit his head on the pillar during Parent's maneuver and he later experienced significant head, chest, and shoulder pain. Id.

         After Staples was handcuffed, he was led to another secure area and asked if he wanted medical attention, which he accepted. Doc. No. 49-2 at 13. Nurse Donna Dufresne examined Staples and noted that she “did not see any injury to Inmate Staples' head . . . nor did Inmate Staples complain to [her] that he had injured his head.” Doc. No. 49-8 at 3. Staples later claimed that he had suffered a concussion, but the record does not contain medical evidence to support his claim. Doc. No. 49-2 at 14.

         B. 2015 Incident

         Staples filed a complaint in this court on October 22, 2014 naming the Warden, the Corrections Commissioner, and the Parole Board as defendants (2014 Lawsuit). Case. No. 14-cv-473-LM, Doc. No. 1 at 1. He amended his complaint on May 11, 2015 to add Marshall as a defendant. Case No. 14-cv-473-LM, Doc. No. 84 at 9.

         On July 25, 2015, Correctional Officers David Dionne and Korey McCauley attempted to move Staples to a new cell within SHU, where Staples was then housed. Doc. No. 49-2 at 53. Although the officers repeatedly told Staples to pack his belongings and prepare to be moved, he refused and made it clear that he would not leave his cell voluntarily. Id. at 22-24. McCauley and Dionne later consulted with Marshall and they decided to use Oleoresin Capsicum Spray, (“pepper spray”) to gain Staples' compliance, as authorized under official department policies and procedures.[2] Doc. No. 49-16 at 2. Armed with the spray, Marshall approached Staples' cell and repeatedly ordered him to “cuff up.” When staples refused, Marshall told him that he would be sprayed if he did not comply. Staples responded, “spray me, tase me, do whatever the fuck you want.” Doc. No. 49-16 at 3.

         Marshall then dispersed the pepper spray into Staples' cell by spraying it through the rectangular “tray slot” on the lower half of the cell door. Pursuant to PPD 5.58, which requires staff to record any event where pepper spray “is used as a planned use of force option, e.g., cell extraction, ” the event was videotaped using a handheld audio and visual recording device. See Doc. No. 49-25; Doc. No. 49-18 at 3. In the recording, Marshall can be seen and heard spraying the substance into Staples' cell for approximately nine seconds as Staples backed away from the cell door.[3] Marshall explained that he believed he used the amount of spray reasonably necessary to have the desired effect, considering the size of Staples' cell and the fact that he had backed up away from the door and covered his face. Doc. No. 49-18 at 4.

         Nurse Dufresne was called to Staples' cell shortly after the incident to observe him through the cell window, in accordance with PPD 5.58. Doc. No. 49-8 at 1. She noted that he had a runny nose, but was not rubbing his eyes and did not say he was in any distress. Doc. No. 49-8 at 1-2. Officers were able to get Staples to comply with the cuff-up order and leave his cell approximately 90-minutes later, at which time he was provided a shower and offered medical attention. Doc. No. 49-17 at 2; Doc. No. 49-18 at 6.

         II. STAND ...

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