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Ernst v. Black Hawk County Jail

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

December 9, 2016

JAMES ROBERT ERNST, II, Plaintiff,
v.
BLACK HAWK COUNTY JAIL, SGT. STAINBROOK, TONY SHADER, CAPTAIN HERBST, DEPUTY FROST, DEPUTY SEECH and VANDER ZWAAG, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JON STUART SCOLES, CHIEF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On the 26th day of September 2016, this matter came on for an evidentiary hearing at the Newton Correctional Facility in Newton, Iowa. Plaintiff James Robert Ernst, II, appeared in person and was unrepresented by counsel. All six individual Defendants appeared in person and were represented by their attorney, John T. McCoy.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 13, 2016, Plaintiff James Robert Ernst, II, filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis on a civil rights claim. Attached to the application was a complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming Defendants violated Ernst's Constitutional rights. On March 11, Judge Edward J. McManus granted Ernst's application and directed the clerk of court to file and serve the complaint without the prepayment of fees.

         Defendants filed an answer and affirmative defenses on April 21. Defendants denied the allegations generally and affirmatively asserted Ernst had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.

         On May 13, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. In an Order filed on June 21, Judge McManus dismissed all of Ernst's claims, except one. Judge McManus concluded that "[t]here exists a genuine question of fact as to whether the events surrounding the March 30, 2015, assault of plaintiff rise to the level of a violation of plaintiffs civil rights under § 1983 by defendants." In the same Order, Judge McManus referred the case to me for a report and recommendation.

         II. RELEVANT FACTS

         On January 2, 2015, Plaintiff James Robert Ernst, II, was arrested, charged with first degree murder, and booked into the Black Hawk County Jail. According to the booking log, Ernst reported receiving death threats.

HE HAS BEEN RECEIVING DEATH THREATS -BELIEVES SOME OF THEM INITIATED FROM INMATES INCARCERATED HERE. HE ONLY HAS GANG NAMES - NO GIVEN NAMES.

         Booking Log, 01/02/2015 (Plaintiff's Exhibit 3). Ernst's victim, Orintheo Campbell, Jr., was a member of the Black Flag Mafia, a gang in Waterloo. It was believed gang members posed a threat to Ernst's safety. Because of the threats, Ernst was placed in "A pod" in protective custody.

         According to Captain Mark Herbst, one of the defendants in this case, jail officials knew some of the gang members being housed at the jail, but not all. On January 10, a "keep separate" entry was added to the booking log, which stated:

BLACK FLAG MAFIA MEMBERS - CHRIS ROBY, NATHANIEL MATLOCK, PERQUONDIS HOLMES, DEVATE EWELL (VICTIM IN HIS CASE IS ORINTHEO CAMPBELL JR. WHO IS BLACK FLAG).

         Booking Log, 01/10/2015 (Plaintiff's Exhibit 3).

         Captain Herbst, who is employed by the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office as jail administrator, testified that one of the "fundamental responsibilities" of the jail is "to keep inmates safe." Because of the reported threats, Ernst was placed in protective custody in Unit A-2. Herbst explained that protective custody is not intended to be punitive, but instead is intended to keep an inmate separate from other inmates for the inmate's own safety. While in A-2, an inmate is only released from his cell for one hour a day; and when the inmate is out of his cell, he has no contact with other inmates. The type and number of personal items permitted an inmate in A-2 is also limited.[1]

         On February 3, Ernst submitted a written complaint that he had contact with another inmate in A pod when they were both exercising visitation.[2] According to the booking log, however, on February 6, Ernst requested to be moved out of A-2 and into a less restrictive setting. Ernst was told he was in protective custody, but the staff member making the entry in the booking log indicated he "would ask." Ernst advised the staff member that "he wanted a complaint form instead; stated he'd already asked."[3] Ernst men filed a written complaint asking to be moved and wrote that he "[n]ever asked to be placed in A-2 or under protective custody."[4] (This was just three days after Ernst complained about having contact with another prisoner.)

         Two days later, on February 8, a booking log entry indicates that Ernst's classification status was reviewed, but due to continuing threats, he remained on protective custody status. On the same day, Ernst filed an inmate request form, advising jail staff that he had "found out" that the gang was "Black Flag, " which included Chris Roby and a couple of other persons. One of the deputies responded on February 9, stating:

You have keep separates already in your log for Chris Roby, Nathaniel Matlock, Perquondis Holmes, & Devate Ewell ("Red"). So you will not have contact with those individuals and they won't have any contact with you as long as you are in jail. If there are others that aren't listed, fill out another kyte with those names on it so we can get them entered into the computer.

         Inmate Request Form, 2-8-15 (Plaintiffs Exhibit 1). Also on February 9, another "keep separate" entry was made into the booking log, identifying Orintheo Campbell, Sr., the father of Ernst's victim.

         Captain Herbst testified that he continued receiving complaints about Ernst being housed in Unit A-2. Ernst and his attorney claimed that Ernst's civil rights were being violated. The State Ombudsman was investigating Ernst's complaints. Herbst testified he was "trying to walk a very fine line" between what Ernst believed was a violation of his civil rights and Herbst's duty to keep Ernst safe. According to Herbst, he knew "full well that there was probably some legitimacy as to what [Ernst] was saying about his safety." ...


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