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Tennyson v. Harris County

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

May 17, 2019

HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, et al, Defendants.


          Kenneth M. Hoyt United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by Harris County, Texas [DE 48] and the individual defendants [DE 50], and the plaintiff's consolidated response to the motions [DE 52]. The Court has reviewed the motions, the response and arguments contained and, after a careful review, determines that Harris County's motion should be granted and that certain individual defendants' motions should be denied.


         The plaintiff, Mark Tennyson, brought this suit against defendants Harris County, Texas and individuals Elvia Villarreal, Precious Williams, Michael Alston, Rene Garcia, Kendrick Handy, Terry Sanders, Jerome Ramon, Cassandra Amie, Joash Butler, Ron Hickman and John and Jane Does 1-10, as an inmate for violation of his civil rights, while detained in the Harris County jail, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§1983, 1985.

         The facts, as stated by the plaintiff that give rise to this suit occurred on or about March 3, 2016, when the plaintiff and “eight other inmates” were called out of their pod(s) for allegedly “rapping and/or talking loudly”. Officer Villarreal responded to the noise and called several others officers to assist in conducting an investigation into the source of the noise. The plaintiff asserts that after they were removed from their cells, they were told to face the wall. As he was facing the wall, he told officer Villarreal that she had the wrong people and that she was engaging a discriminatory investigation by focusing only on African American inmates. According to the plaintiff, before he completed his remarks, another unknown officer approached him from behind “grabbing and twisting [his] arm with his body against the wall, then slammed [him] to the [floor]”. The impact from hitting the floor, he contends, caused his shoulder to dislocated resulting in severe pain due to the dislocation.

         After being handcuffed, he requested medical attention for his shoulder, but was ignored by the attending officers. He was escorted to an isolation tank cell where he continued to request medical attention. The handcuffs were not immediately removed; however, and he did not receive medical attention until the following morning.


         The following morning, the plaintiff was examined by a physician who diagnosed a shoulder dislocation, ordered x-rays and a sling to stabilize his shoulder. The doctor also prescribed pain medication and entered an order that the plaintiff's bunk assignment be changed to a lower bunk. After the shoulder was “popped” in place, the plaintiff returned to his cell and received prescribed medication for pain for several weeks.

         PART I

         Harris County Liability

         The plaintiff asserts that Harris County violated his civil rights by: (a) adopting or permitting to exist a wide-spread policy that permits its deputies to use excessive force against inmates, falsifying reports and failing to provide timely and adequate medical attention.; (b) failing to train, supervise and discipline its officers concerning their duty to avoid violating citizens' rights; and (c) failing to adequately investigate complaints of misconduct, thereby ratifying the officers' illegal conduct.

         Harris County is a governmental entity and as such is subject to liability under § 1983. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Svcs of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). To establish municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish (a) the existence of an official policy, custom or practice; (b) of which a municipal policymaker can be charged with actual or constructive knowledge; and (c) that it was the moving force causing the constitutional violation. Cox v. City of Dallas, 430 F.3d 734, 748 (5th Cir. 2005).

         Although the plaintiff's injury was not minor, as “argued” by Harris County, the plaintiff's claims against Harris County, nevertheless, fail. There is no evidence that Harris County adopted an official policy or that a policy exists out of customs or practices permitting the violation of an inmate's constitutional right to be free from the use of excessive force by jail staff.

         The plaintiff suggests that a study conducted by the Houston Chronicle supports his claim. The fact that a Chronicle investigation revealed that only half of the complaints from inmates concerning brutal treatment, result in disciplinary actions against jail staff, does not establish that a policy has been adopted or permitted by ...

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