Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 2-03-cv-00494) District Judge: Honorable Gary L. Lancaster.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge
Before: AMBRO, GARTH, and ROTH, Circuit Judges
Anthony Sides brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various prison officials at SCI Greene, a correctional facility in Pennsylvania, alleging violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The case proceeded to trial in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the jury reached a verdict in favor of the defendants. Sides appeals that decision, contending that he was denied a fair trial because the District Court required that he be restrained by handcuffs and leg irons throughout the trial. Though we have concerns regarding the manner in which the Court handled this issue, any error here was nonetheless harmless. Thus we affirm.*fn1
In his Complaint, Sides, a former inmate at SCI Greene, alleged that Officer James Cherry entered his cell and attacked him in April 2002. Sides further alleged that other prison officials denied his repeated requests for medical care. The case proceeded to trial in January 2008.
A. The District Court's Imposition of Physical Restraints
Following jury selection, the District Court held an informal conference in chambers and raised the possibility that Sides would be physically restrained-i.e., appear in leg irons and handcuffs-during trial. Sides' counsel objected to the imposition of any physical restraints, and argued-citing precedent from another circuit court-that the District Court should employ a "balancing test" to determine whether physical restraints were warranted "in terms of [the] interest of the plaintiff and the need to have him in handcuffs." Counsel also urged the Court not "just . . . [to] defer to any type of Department of Corrections policies" on the issue.
In response, defendants' counsel noted that he did not represent the Department of Corrections, and thus could not "really give . . . guidance" to the Court on the issue. When the Judge asked whether counsel would "make some calls to see if somebody could come up and represent" the Department of Corrections, counsel responded that Sides was considered "very high risk," had "been a very assaultive inmate[,] and [was] currently in a special needs unit" at SCI Greene. Though defendants' counsel stated that he would be willing to "proffer testimony" on the issue, he argued that, in light of "Sides' track record of . . . misconduct and violence," it would be appropriate to have him "handcuffed and shackled and certainly [placed] under guard."
The Judge then informed the parties that he had spoken with a United States Deputy Marshal that morning regarding the issue:
I was told by [the] Deputy Marshal . . . [,] who is in charge of security for the Courts, that Mr. Sides is a category five security risk[,] which is the highest category of security risk the Department of Justice has or Department of Corrections has. That he is in a special needs unit at the prison. That if ordered, I could have the shackles removed; however, he recommended against it.
I asked him what could be done to minimize this and he ha[s] agreed to place some type of a curtain at the desk so that the shackles would not be obvious throughout the trial.
We've agreed that when he is called to testify, we will take him-we'll take the jury out of the room, put him in the witness box. I mean, the guards will take the shackles off. The marshal will ...