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Maurice Gooden v. Warden Mr. Merline

June 8, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bumb, United States District Judge:



Defendants Warden Gary Merline, Sergeant Steven Iuliucci,*fn1 Officer William Platt, Officer Timothy Keating and Officer Joseph Conrad (collectively "Defendants") move for summary judgment dismissing the Complaint filed by pro se Plaintiff Maurice Gooden ("Plaintiff"). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted, in part, and reserved, in part. Plaintiff's claims against Warden Merline and Sergeant Iuliucci are dismissed with prejudice. The Court reserves decision on Plaintiff's claims against Officers Platt, Officer Keating and Conrad.

I. Statement of the Facts*fn2

The allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint pertain to two incidents: the July 25, 2006 incident and the October 15, 2006 incident.

A. July 25 Incident

1. Defendants' Account

Plaintiff, while an inmate at the Atlantic County Jail, participated in a disciplinary hearing with Donald Geiger, an inmate hearing officer. Def. Ex. E. During the hearing, a confrontation arose:

[Plaintiff] became very loud and angry towards Mr. Geiger. Witnesses reported that [Plaintiff] leaned up and over his chair, yelling at Mr. Geiger, then proceeded to punch Mr. Geiger three times in the face.


Investigator Luis Munos of the Public Defenders Office reported seeing Plaintiff strike Mr. Geiger. Def. Ex. F. In response to the incident, Investigator Munos and Mr. Luis Rios immediately grabbed [Plaintiff] and placed him on the wall. Mr. Munos stated that he had secured [Plaintiff's] right arm behind his back and Mr. Rios had secured the left side. Mr. Munos stated that Ofc. Johnson immediately responded and called for back up. Mr. Munos stated that back up arrived with in seconds, and that himself, and Mr. Rios had full control of [Plaintiff] until staff arrived.


Kathlyn Mitchell, another employee of the Public Defenders Office, reported seeing her co-workers restrain Plaintiff with the help of Officer Johnson.*fn3 Def. Ex. G. She further reported that "when Officers arrived, [Plaintiff] appeared to be resisting and not compiling [sic] with the Officers on scene." Id.

The victim of Plaintiff's assault, Mr. Geiger, described the aftermath of his attack:

I was not focusing properly. I had visitors conducting inmate interviews; one female interviewer behind me. The guy that attacked me was fighting with other people and I started forward toward the inmate to help keep the inmate from getting free and harming the visitors. Next thing there are a lot of officers everywhere and the inmate was still fighting. Then he was being held down on the floor. (I remember seeing an orange clad arm come out of the pile a few times hitting people.) I don't know how he got to the floor....

Def. Ex. I.

After Officer Johnson called for back up, "[n]umerous personnel responded," Plaintiff "was placed in restraints to the rear" and Plaintiff "was escorted out of the area." Def. Ex. J, Johnson Report. When Officer Smith*fn4 arrived on scene, he witnessed Plaintiff resisting Officer Johnson and two unknown males. Def. Ex. J, Smith Report. Officer Tornblom*fn5 also reported seeing Plaintiff resisting. Def. Ex. J, Tornblum Report. Plaintiff refused orders for Plaintiff to place his hands behind his back. Id. Officers Smith, Clerico*fn6 and Tornblum "assisted in getting [Plaintiff] down to the ground" and handcuffed Plaintiff. Def. Ex. J, Smith Report, Tornblum Report.

Defendant Officer Platt arrived on scene and observed Plaintiff "on the floor in a prone position...kicking and screaming stating that when he gets up he will [f---] you up." Def. Ex. J, Platt Report. Officer Platt also saw that Mr. Gieger had sustained injuries to his face. Id. Platt reported that he used force against Plaintiff:

The officers who were already in contact with the violent inmate had been able to force the resisting inmate[']s hands behind his back. Verbal commands were given by this officer to stop resisting. The inmate continued to resist officers['] control. The inmate was helped up and this officer took control of the resisting inmate['s] head. I at that time was able to identify the inmate as [Plaintiff]. I continued to order the resisting inmate to stop resisting and walk. The inmate stated [f---] you. I continued to control the resisting inmate['s] head. I started to apply touch pressure techniques to the inmate['s] mandibular angle area of the left side of the jaw. I continued to give loud verbal commands to the still resisting inmate. Stop resisting and walk. The inmate continued to pull away resisting this officer['s] restraint and would not walk forward by his own power. The escorting officers utilized physical force by pushing the restrain[ed] inmate forward while controlling his upper torso. This officer continued touch pressure techniques to the restraint [sic] inmate['s] mandibular angle area of his jaw while giving verbal commands to stop resisting and walk forward. The inmate still did not comply and was finally able to be brought to admissions where he was changed into a high security uniform and placed in full restraints. All restraints were adjusted and double locked. The nurse was brought to the area and checked for any injuries. Once cleared the inmate was escorted to cell 1 intake left and placed into the cell without further incident. The inmate was very strong and was able to resist control of several officers. The touch pressure techniques that I applied had little to no effect on the violent inmate. It also appeared to this officer that the inmate has mental health concerns.


Officer Tornblum reported that Plaintiff "was resistive the entire time he was being escorted down to admissions." Def. Ex. J, Tornblum Report. Tornblum further reported that when the Officers moved Plaintiff to a cell, Nurse Krawiec "inspected [Plaintiff] for any injuries" and "there appeared to be none." Id.; see also Def. Ex. K, Report of Robert Krawiec, LPN ("I/m seen, evaluated, no treatment necessary.").

Shift Commander Lieutenant Davenport also reported on Plaintiff's movements after the assault:

[Plaintiff] was transferred to admissions by staff and secured in a cell in full restraints until he calm[ed] down. Restraints w[ere] checked by nurse Kraweic. Sgt. Cohen responded to admissions and informed the officers Platt, Keating Tornblum and Minetti that [Plaintiff] was going to be transferred to Intake left. [Plaintiff] was strip[] searched, changed from orange uniform to a black and white jump suit and transferred to IL # 1. [Plaintiff] was then transferred to Intake by Ofcs. Tornblum, Keating[,] Platt and Minetti and place[d] in cell 1. He was ordered to get down on his knees so that Ofc. Tornblum could take of[f] the leg irons. [Plaintiff] was place[d] in a prone position so the bell chain could be removed. Once all restraints w[ere] removed[,] all officer[s] exited the cell without incident. Def Ex. J, Davenport Report. Officer Tornblum also reported that the Officers exited Plaintiff's cell without incident.

Def Ex. J, Tornblum Report.

The victim of Plaintiff's assault, Mr. Geiger, filed criminal charges. Def. Ex. E. Plaintiff also filed criminal charges against Defendant Officers Platt and Keating as a result of the July 25 incident. See Dkt. Ent. 77.

2. Plaintiff's Account

In a document titled "pre-trial memorandum," filed well-prior to the pending summary judgment motion, Plaintiff alleged that Officers Platt and Keating attacked him, causing Plaintiff to sustain "blunt trauma injuries to the face and back, and upper and lower torso." See Dkt. Ent. 15. Plaintiff alleges that these Officers "kicked and stomped [him] so hard that [he]...lost...part of [his] tooth." Id.

Plaintiff alleges that he notified Warden Merline of the assault, who referred the matter to the Special Investigations Division ("SID"). Id. Shortly thereafter, Sergeant Iuliucci interviewed Plaintiff for the SID. Id. Plaintiff informed Sergeant Iuliucci about the assault and his intent to file charges. Id. Some time after Plaintiff filed charges against Officers Platt and Keating, Plaintiff informed Sergeant Iuliucci that Keating and Platt were verbally harassing Plaintiff. Id.

On October 10, 2006, Plaintiff told Sergeant Iuliucci that he "felt his life was in danger as a result of the charges that were filed" and requested that he "be kept away from these defendant[s] to protect me from any further physical and mental abuse." Id. Sergeant Iuliucci told Plaintiff that the Sergeant would "[s]ee what [he] can do" and would speak with Warden Merline and Id. Plaintiff never heard back from the Sergeant. Id.

B. October 15 Incident

1. Defendants' Account

On October 15, 2006, Plaintiff refused to allow another inmate to enter his cell. Def. Ex. M. Officer Montoya*fn7 and Defendant Officer Platt ordered Plaintiff to move back from the cell door so that another inmate could enter. Id. Plaintiff refused. Defendant Officer Keating arrived to assist the Officers. Id. Both Keating and Platt ordered Plaintiff to back away from the cell door. Officer Montoya attempted to place the inmate inside the cell, but Plaintiff "became extremely upset and agitated and refused any inmate to be housed with him." Id. Officer Montoya escorted the other inmate away from the cell, and Officers Platt and Keating "entered into the area to speak to [Plaintiff]." Id.

An investigative report from the incident detailed what followed:

[Plaintiff] became aggressive towards Ofc. Platt by trying to push through him to exit the cell area. Ofc. Keating called a code three for officer assistance, [Plaintiff] threw several punches and a kick towards Ofc. Platt and then assaulted Ofc. Platt by head bunting [sic] him[,] knocking Ofc. Platt['s] glasses off his face, then biting Ofc. Platt[']s index finger. [Plaintiff] also assaulted Ofc. Keating by punching him several times and kicking Ofc. Keating in the leg by the knee area. Ofc. Platt and Ofc. Keating gave continuous commands to [Plaintiff] telling him to stop resisting and to put his hands behind his back. When additional officers responded[,] [Plaintiff] was placed in handcuff restraints and removed from the area.


Defendant Officer Conrad also reported using force against Plaintiff:

This Officer responded...for a code three, officers needing assistance. Upon arriving at [intake housing left] with additional staff members, this Officer was directed by Officer Montoya to cell # 13. Upon entering the cell, this Officer observed Officers Keating and Platt attempting to restrain [Plaintiff]. At this time Officer Platt was ordering [Plaintiff] to stop biting [Officer Platt's] finger. This order was given multiple times by Officer Platt. [Plaintiff] refused to comply with [the] order. At this time, this Officer engaged [Plaintiff] by striking [Plaintiff] two times with a closed fist to [Plaintiff's] right side of his head. Again, [Plaintiff] was ordered to stop biting Officer Platt's finger. [Plaintiff] again refused to comply with these orders. At this time, this Officer struck [Plaintiff] in his right shoulder area with two knee strikes. At this time [Plaintiff] released Officer Platt's finger. [Plaintiff] at this time struck this Officer with a closed right hand to this Officer's left shoulder area. At this time several staff members w[ere] attempting to restrain [Plaintiff], who continued to be combative. [Plaintiff] was given multiple orders to stop resisting and to place his hands behind his back. [Plaintiff] continued to resist staff members by refusing to ...

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