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Hurdsman v. Pokluda

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

January 13, 2020




         Before the Court are Plaintiff Rodney A. Hurdsman's complaint (ECF No. 1) and the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 77) filed by Defendants Pokluda, Gleason, Williams, Brumleve, Casey, Mobley, Barcenas, Herrera, Villareal, Voisine, Wheless, Barnett, Harris, Nira, Davis, and Williamson County, Texas.[1] Defendants have also filed a Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Experts. (ECF No. 78.) Hurdsman has responded to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and filed a Motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). (ECF Nos. 84, 86.) Hurdsman is proceeding pro se and has paid the full filing fee for his lawsuit. Upon careful consideration of the parties' motions, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, grants Defendants' Motion to Strike, and denies Hurdsman's Motion pursuant to Rule 56(d).


         At the time he filed his complaint, Hurdsman was confined in the Williamson County Jail (WCJ) as a pretrial detainee. He is currently incarcerated in the Robertson Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division. He has filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983.

         Hurdsman alleges that, during his detention in the WCJ, his legal mail was intentionally mishandled, resulting in the dismissal of a civil action he was litigating in Wise County, Texas, and that, after he filed several grievances over the mishandling of his legal mail, Defendants retaliated against him by placing him in disciplinary segregation. After spending several months in segregation, Defendants then used excessive force against him by tasing him several times and putting him in an Emergency Restraint Chair (ERC) and then further retaliated against him by taking away his mattress, Bible, rosary, and all his correspondence materials for thirty days. As a result, he was made to sleep on a 3/16” steel plate for thirty days, which caused sores to develop on his body. Hurdsman sues Williamson County and the following employees of the Williamson County Sheriff's Office (WCSO): Commander Kathleen Pokluda, Chief Mike Gleason, Lieutenant Jeffrey Williams, Sergeant Michael Brumleve, Sergeant Brian Casey, Sergeant Jimmy Mobley, Officer Mario Barcenas, Officer Aric Herrera, Officer Julian Villareal, Officer Bruce Voisine, Lieutenant Doug Wheless, Sergeant Ronald Barnett, Sergeant Shamona Harris, Sergeant Adrian Nira, and Officer Jeremy Davis. He requests compensatory damages in the amount of $400, 000.00, punitive damages in the amount of $500, 000.00, declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and court costs. (ECF No. 1.)

         After Defendants filed a Partial Motion for Dismissal (ECF No. 24), the Court dismissed one defendant and several of Hurdsman's claims (ECF No. 27). The parties thereafter engaged in lengthy discovery. Defendants now file their motion for summary judgment, arguing there are no genuine issues of material fact; that all of Hurdsman's claims fail; that the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and that there is no evidence supporting municipal liability against Williamson County. (ECF No. 77.)

         Hurdsman responds to Defendants' motion by restating his allegations, rebutting Defendants' claims, and providing additional evidence. (ECF No. 81.) Hurdsman has also filed a motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d), arguing that Defendants have failed to produce several videos that Hurdsman believes would further substantiate his claims, and requests a list of people near his cell when the alleged excessive force incident occurred as well as a list of inmates either tased or put in an ERC at the WCJ between April 2015 and July 2017. (ECF No. 86.) Defendants oppose the motion, arguing there has been ample opportunity for discovery. (ECF No. 88.)


         A. Factual Background

         Mishandled Legal Mail

         Hurdsman was booked as a pretrial detainee at the WCJ on April 28, 2015. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 1).) Two weeks later, Hurdsman began submitting grievances regarding his access to WCJ's law library. (ECF Nos. 76 (ex. 4), 81 (ex. 3).) He also formally complained when his legal mail- which he requested to be sent via indigent mail-was returned to him when he had sufficient funds to pay for postage. (ECF No. 81 (ex. 5).)

         On February 9, 2016, Hurdsman requested to mail a legal document to the Wise County Clerk via indigent mail. However, the following day, he was denied indigent postage supplies, and the mail was returned to him with the response, “Per Chief you can purchase the stamps off of commissary.” Hurdsman states he immediately resubmitted the package for mailing, stating it was a time sensitive matter. The complaint form appears to have been sent twice, with two separate dates on it. On it, Hurdsman states his understanding that, when his funds became available, the $4.00 postage would be taken from either his inmate trust account or from his weekly packs of indigent legal mail. (ECF No. 81 (ex. 6).) Hurdsman avers that he never heard back from the mailroom and assumed the package had been sent. (ECF No. 81 at 4.) On February 18, Officer Freeburg responded to Hurdsman's mail complaint, stating “Chief Gleason, himself, took your mail package to the mail room where it was processed w/ postage for the Georgetown Post Office.” (ECF No. 76 (ex. 10).)

         On March 16, 2016, Hurdsman filed a grievance, stating the issues with his February 9 legal mail and his assumption that it had been mailed out, but that he had heard nothing from the Wise County Court, and there was no entry in his mail log for that day. (ECF Nos. 76 (exs. 9, 58).) Hurdsman has submitted a page of handwritten notes-purportedly written by Deputy Giles and detailing telephone contacts with the Wise County District Clerk-which show that, as of March 30, 2016, there had been “nothing received” and that “Hurdsman called last Friday.” (ECF No. 81 (ex. 7).)[2]

         On April 12, 2016, Hurdsman submitted grievances to Defendants Gleason and Pokluda, along with two other WCSO captains, stating that his legal mail had been mishandled by Defendant Gleason, and that while he had been assured the document would be resent, it had not been. (ECF No. 81 (ex. 8).) On April 19, Hurdsman requested a formal grievance form from Captain Freeburg so he could address the “theft” of his mail. (Id. (ex. 9).) Hurdsman sent another complaint to Freeburg that same day, stating that none of his complaints had received responses, and asking for copies of his prior complaints or a “formal” grievance form. (Id.) Hurdsman submitted another complaint on April 21, restating his issues and threatening a federal lawsuit. (Id.) He then filed two formal grievances on April 22 and May 1, noting in the latter that he had yet to receive any response to his complaints, and threatening to contact Sheriff Wilson about the matter. (Id.)

         Hurdsman attested that Defendants Williams and Voisine approached him at different times and warned him to stop filing grievances about his missing legal mail “or there's going to be consequences.” Hurdsman attested that he thought Defendants Gleason and Pokluda sent Williams and Voisine to threaten him. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 3) (Hurdsman's Dep. 69:9-72:10)) (hereinafter Hurdsman's Dep.).

         Hurdsman moves to disciplinary segregation

         On May 18, 2016, Hurdsman again filed a complaint about the lack of response to his complaints and grievances, arguing that the Jail Standards Administrative Code required the WCJ to answer complaints within sixty days. Deputy Giles received the complaint at 11:21 a.m. and responded “Per Capt. Pokluda-you should be getting a written response from Lt. Williams on 5-19-16.” (ECF No. 81 (ex. 12).)

         Approximately three hours later, at 2:10pm, Defendant Mobley went to Hurdsman's cell. The parties' version of what happened next differ. Defendants state that Mobley informed Hurdsman he was being moved to the same type of cell but in a different location. Hurdsman refused to move, stating “I am not moving there with all those kids. I get no sleep over there.” (ECF No. 76 (ex. 17).) When Mobley insisted he move, Hurdsman began shouting obscenities at Mobley, who then contacted Classification. Classification directed Mobley to move Hurdsman to B9R-6, a disciplinary segregation cell, which-unlike Hurdsman's current cell that had bar doors-has a solid door with only a window and a food portal. (Id. (ex. 18).) Defendants submitted a classification document wherein a WCJ staff person writes that Hurdsman requested to be moved “behind the door” (i.e. to disciplinary segregation.) (Id. (ex. 16).) Mobley handcuffed Hurdsman and moved him to his new cell; Hurdsman refused to stay, saying there was feces in the toilet. Mobley cleaned the toilet and then transported all of Hurdsman's property to his cell. (Id. (ex. 17).)

         Hurdsman's account of the move is quite different. He avers that Mobley came to his cell and told him “pack your stuff you['re] moving to disciplinary segregation.” Mobley also said that if Hurdsman “had just listened to Williams and Voisine [he] would not be having any of these difficulties.” (ECF No. 81 at 7.) Hurdsman denies asking Mobley to put him “behind the door” and states that not only was the toilet clogged in his new cell, but there was feces all over the floor and walls from a previous inmate. Hurdsman alleges that Mobley left him there, without cleaning the toilet or floors or walls, and further notes that while WCSO staff were, at this time, required to videotape all interactions with him (id. (ex. 15)), Mobley failed to videotape this encounter.

         Afterward, Hurdsman was disciplined for “Disruption of Jail Activity” and “Refusal to Follow Written or Oral Directive” and sanctioned with fifteen days in disciplinary segregation along with loss of privileges. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 19).) Hurdsman's sanctions ended on June 2, 2016 (id.); however, Hurdsman remained in this disciplinary segregation cell until October 21, 2016 (id. (ex. 2)).

         At the end of May 2016, Hurdsman was taken to a hallway where Deputy Watts and Defendants Gleason, Pokluda, and Williams were waiting. They asked Hurdsman why he continued to purse the legal mail issue and told him to “leave it alone . . . or else.” (Hurdsman's Dep. 72:16-25).) Hurdsman further alleged that Defendant Gleason told him he would “find out the hard way” that Gleason, not Hurdsman, runs the jail. (ECF No. 81 at 9.)

         The September 21 Incident

         By September 21, 2016, Hurdsman had been housed in disciplinary segregation for 126 days. Hurdsman began complaining to WCSO officers about how he was being housed in an isolation cell in retaliation for pursuing grievances against Defendant Gleason for the mishandling of his legal mail. (ECF Nos. 81 at 10; Hurdsman's Dep. 94:1-96:25.) At 2 a.m. on September 21, Hurdsman alleges that Officer Aaron Grant rounded by his cell, and Hurdsman asked Grant to move him, complaining that the inmate in the cell next to him had been banging on the metal walls for three days, and that either the inmate needed to be moved or Hurdsman did. (ECF No. 81 at 10.) Grant reported that Hurdsman got his attention by striking his cell door and yelling, and that, after he complained to Grant about the neighboring inmate, Hurdsman began striking the wall and slamming his stool. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 20).) Hurdsman denies banging on the wall or slamming his stool, and alleges he requested a supervisor be called so he could be moved; Grant reported calling Defendant Brumleve. (Id.; ECF No. 81 at 10-11.)

         Defendants submitted video of their encounter with Hurdsman. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 24).) It begins with Defendants Brumleve, Herrera, Barcenas, Villareal, and Davis at Hurdsman's cell door at 2:58 a.m. on September 21.[3] Hurdsman has his arm hanging out of the food portal, and when Brumleve says Hurdsman has been banging on his cell door, Hurdsman argues that it is not him but the inmate next door who has been banging for two days. Defendants Brumleve and Herrera tell Hurdsman three times to put his arm back in his cell or he will be tased; Hurdsman does not comply and Herrera delivers a “drive stun” to Hurdsman's right shoulder to gain compliance.[4] Hurdsman then begins swatting at both the taser and the defendants, at which point Brumleve orders the door opened. Hurdsman takes his arm out of the food portal, steps back into his cell to grab his mattress, and pushes his mattress against the door. The defendants enter the cell by pushing against Hurdsman, who is using his mattress to shield himself from being tased. Defendant Herrera pushes Hurdsman back and deploys the taser gun, whereupon Hurdsman falls to the ground. Herrera and two other officers roll Hurdsman onto his stomach, yelling at Hurdsman to give them his hands. With one defendant on the left side of Hurdsman's back and another on his legs, Brumleve orders another defendant to enter the cell to assist. On his stomach and with two men on his back, Hurdsman does not comply with the orders, and upon Brumleve's orders, Herrera delivers another taser cycle. (Id.)

         Defendants eventually handcuff Hurdsman's arms behind him, and he complains loudly that his shoulder is broken. Hurdsman rolls onto his left side, complaining about shoulder pain. He begins arguing with Defendants about what happened, and eventually moves to sit up. Hurdsman attempts to pull the taser prongs out while sitting up; Brumleve tells him to stop resisting, and then orders the officers to “stand him up and put him in the chair.” Hurdsman again complains that his “shoulder's out of the f---ing socket” and asks for a minute before Defendants stand him up. He threatens to hurt the defendants and says “when I bite you, or hurt your, it's on you.” He tells one of the defendants to get away from him as he slowly spins around and scoots away from the officer in question; then, as he's lying backward, he lifts his leg and moves it around the officer, at which time Herrera discharges another taser cycle and deploys a drive stun to Hurdsman's right abdomen. (Id.)

         Defendant Barnett then arrives to evaluate Hurdsman's right shoulder and to remove the taser prongs. Hurdsman attempts to remove the prongs himself, using his right arm, and yells at Defendants “the taser ain't working okay!” Barnett examines Hurdsman's right shoulder and says that he cannot see or feel any deformities. At this point, Defendants lift Hurdsman to his feet and begin walking him to the Emergency Restraint Chair (ERC); Hurdsman continues to push at and threaten Defendants. Hurdsman resists being retrained in the ERC, complains about shoulder pain, and makes several threats. Barnett examines Hurdsman and tells the other officers that one of the restraints needs to be loosened. Hurdsman is eventually transported to a detox cell. Defendant Brumleve thereafter reports that Hurdsman's cell smelled strongly of alcohol and that, after they searched Hurdsman's cell, they found a cereal bag that appeared to have alcohol in it. Brumleve states that Hurdsman was likely intoxicated on “jailhouse hooch, ” which explained his erratic behavior. (Id.)

         Hurdsman remained in the ERC from 3:15 a.m. until 8:04 a.m., and was checked on by WCJ staff, including Defendant Nira, approximately every 15 minutes. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 27).) At one point, Defendants needed to move Hurdsman to a different ERC, as his was defective: a leg strap was broken and Defendants alleged Hurdsman was attempting to flip the chair. During this transition, Hurdsman was very aggressive towards Defendants-he threatened them with foul language and resisted all attempts to move his body. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 24).) Hurdsman alleges that he was in substantial pain but that Defendants ignored his requests for medical treatment. (ECF No. 81 at 13.)

         The next afternoon, Hurdsman took a shower and was escorted back to his cell. A medical officer asks Hurdsman if he wants an x-ray of his shoulder or to see the doctor, and Hurdsman refuses, saying that his shoulder no longer hurts. (ECF No. 76 (exs. 24, 29).) Defendant Mobley tells Hurdsman “here's what Captain wants right now”: Hurdsman he can keep his legal materials, a bar of soap, and have a suicide smock and suicide blanket.[5] When they get to Hurdsman's cell, Mobley and another officer begin emptying it. They tell Hurdsman that his correspondence and hygiene products will “stay here” and he can use them in his dayroom time or when he showers. All other items were taken to property, including Hurdsman's mattress and blanket. The video suggests that, outside of his correspondence and hygiene products, no other property was available to Hurdsman. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 24).) Hurdsman alleges, and Defendants do not deny, that this policy was made at the direction of Defendants Pokluda, Gleason, Wheless, Williams, and Casey. (ECF No. 81 at 13.)

         Loss of Privileges, September 21-October 20

         Hurdsman received a Notice of Disciplinary Hearing on September 21, which charged him with three violations: Threatening, Possession of Contraband (Major), and Recklessness. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 30).) All three violations are considered major infractions and, under WCSO Policy, approved sanctions for major infractions include “loss of any or all Privileges for a period not to exceed thirty days, ” and disciplinary separation for a period not to exceed thirty days. (Id. (ex. 15 at 9).) However, certain sanctions are not permitted, including: (1) corporal punishment, (2) deprivation of clothing or bedding (“Only inmates who destroy clothing or bedding may be deprived of such items for up to 24 hours. This shall be reviewed and documented every twenty-four (24) hours”); and (3) “deprivation of correspondence privileges when the offense is unrelated to a violation of the institutional rules and regulations regarding correspondence.” (Id. at 9-10.)

         It is undisputed that, from September 21 to October 21, Hurdsman was required to sleep on a 3/16” steel plate without a mattress and with only a suicide smock and blanket. (ECF No. 81 at 14.) Hurdsman had previously seen a WCJ doctor for his plaque psoriasis in February 2016. (Id. (ex. 31).) As a result of his sleeping without a mattress, Hurdsman developed sores on his hips and outer thighs, and attested that were painful and occasionally bled. (Hurdsman Dep. 194: 12-24.) A video made on October 4, 2016, shows Hurdsman complaining about the sores, and showing them to the medical officer thru his food portal. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 57).) Hurdsman saw a doctor the next day, who noted that Hurdsman had no mattress and diagnosed him with two erythemas[6] on both hips. The doctor told Hurdsman that the sores were “not good” (ECF No. 81 at 15), and wrote that the erythemas “blanch” and were not “decubitus ulcer[s] at this point.”[7] The doctor prescribed a zinc oxide barrier cream and also wrote “soft surface would be ideal.” (ECF No. 76 (ex. 62).) Hurdsman alleges that Defendant Wheless was in the room during this examination and told Hurdsman “you brought it on yourself.” (ECF No. 81 at 15.)

         Hurdsman submitted a grievance about the sores and his lack of a mattress on October 12, and then filed another grievance (albeit on a Medical Request Form) on October 18, addressed to the Medical Supervisor and Defendant Wheless. (Id. (ex. 36).)

         Hurdsman asserts that, on orders from Defendants Gleason and Pokluda, Defendant Mobley removed all writing instruments, paper, envelopes, and postage stamps from Hurdsman's cell. Defendants do not deny this; rather, they argue that it was part of Hurdsman's loss of privilege status stemming from the September 21 incident. Between September 21 and October 21, Hurdsman had two visits (from his attorneys and his parents), sent five letters via in-house mail to his wife, Stephanie Hurdsman, and sent three legal packages-two to a federal district court, and one to Williamson County. (Id. (ex. 4).) A video from September 28 shows Hurdsman using the telephone in the dayroom. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 39).)

         Hurdsman alleges, and Defendants do not deny, that Defendants Pokluda, Williams, Mobley, and Casey ordered all other WCJ and WCSO personnel not to allow Hurdsman to have or purchase any items from the jail's commissary, which included writing instruments, paper, envelopes, and postage stamps. He further states that, because of this restriction, he was forced to barter his food trays in order to obtain the necessary correspondence materials. (ECF No. 81 at 16.)

         On orders from Defendants Pokluda, Gleason, Williams, and Casey, Defendant Mobley removed Hurdsman's Bible, rosary, and a religious book from his cell on September 21 and did not return it for 30 days. (Id.) A video from Hurdsman's dayroom time on September 23 shows Hurdsman walking with a small dictionary from his cell when he asks to trade that dictionary for another one; the officer asks him if he wants his dictionary or Bible, and Hurdsman tells him to “bring the whole box.” (ECF No. 76 (ex. 33).) A few minutes later, another officer hands Hurdsman a plastic bin and tells him “it should have all your stuff in there, Bible and all that stuff.” (Id. (ex. 34).) WCSO policy permits inmates to have in their possession at any time two soft-covered religious books, three religious study guides, and one religious item. (Id. (ex. 15 at 15).) Defendants submitted photographs of Hurdsman's plastic bin taken on October 10, 2016: one photo shows the bin with only his hygiene products, and the other shows the bin with only a Bible and the book The Prodigal God. (Id. (ex. 57).) Defendants argue that Hurdsman was allowed these items during his dayroom time (Id. (ex. A at 32-33).) Hurdsman argues these pictures are deceiving: the plastic bin only ever contained a plastic bag of hygiene products, a shower towel, a change of clothes, and the mail he had received; he states that he did not have access to his Bible, rosary, or religious book for thirty days. (ECF No. 81 at 16-17.)

         Hurdsman's parents visited him at WCJ on October 16, 2016. (ECF No. 81 (ex. 4 at 55).) Afterwards, Hurdsman's mother filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) about his conditions of confinement. (ECF No. 76 (ex. 3 at 17).) In a response dated November 4, 2016, a TCJS program specialist states that he had reviewed Hurdsman's jail conditions of confinement along with video footage of the September 21 incident and “found no violations of Minimum Jail Standards.” (ECF No. 76 (ex. 68).) On October 20, Hurdsman complains on video that he hasn't had a mattress for thirty days and he cannot buy stamps and envelopes from the commissary. (ECF No. 81 (ex. 29).)

         On October 21, 2016, Hurdsman had a disciplinary hearing based off the September 21 incident and was found guilty of threatening, and sanctioned with disciplinary segregation, loss of television, telephone, commissary, and visitation privileges, and removal from programs from September 21 to October 20, 2016. (Id. (exs. 22, 52).

         B. ...

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