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Lewis v. Stephen

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 9, 2016


          OPINION & ORDER


         Pro se plaintiff Richard Lewis is an inmate incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI), a Wisconsin state prison. Lewis contends that defendants, corrections officers at CCI, subjected him to an improper strip search that violated his rights under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments. Lewis alleges that the officers conducted the strip search in view of another inmate and that one of the officers, defendant Michael Stephen, inappropriately touched his anus during the search.

         Both sides move for summary judgment. I will deny Lewis's motion, Dkt. 19, because defendants have submitted evidence showing that the strip search was justified and that the officers adequately protected Lewis's privacy. Defendants' evidence raises genuine disputes of fact concerning the conduct of the search. Defendant's motion, Dkt. 30, presents a closer call. Lewis concedes many of the material facts concerning the circumstances leading up to the search, and a video of the search confirms most of defendants' version of the facts. But a core factual dispute remains: Lewis says that Stephen inappropriately touched his anus during the search; Stephen denies that he did so. The video is inconclusive because it was shot from an angle that does not show the relevant details.

         I will grant defendants' motion on Lewis's Fourth Amendment claim because the touching of Lewis's anus does not transform a lawful prison strip search into an unreasonable search. I will also grant defendants' motion for summary judgment on Lewis's Eighth Amendment claim concerning the location and visibility of the search because defendants adequately protected his privacy during the search. But I will deny defendants' motion with respect to Lewis's Eighth Amendment claim concerning the manner of the search. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Lewis as I must, Lewis's testimony that officer Stephen inappropriately touched Lewis's anus supports the inference that the search was conducted in a manner intended to humiliate Lewis. Lewis will certainly face a difficult challenge at trial, because his version of the facts is not credibly corroborated by any other evidence. But I conclude that he is entitled to present his Eighth Amendment claim to jurors, who could conceivably choose to believe his account rather than officer Stephen's.


         Except where noted, the following facts are established as undisputed by the parties' summary judgment evidence.

         A. The parties

         Plaintiff Richard Lewis is an inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI). Defendants are CCI correctional officers who conducted the contested strip search in the Segregation Unit at CCI. Defendant Theodore Anderson ordered the strip search; defendant Bryan Gerry restrained Lewis during the search; defendant Michael Stephen performed the material part of the search, namely touching and manipulating Lewis's body to search for contraband.

         B. Strip search policies at CCI

         At CCI, inmates are strip searched whenever they change “status, ” such as when they move into segregation or into an observation cell. CCI has two types of strip searches: (1) self-directed strip search and (2) staff-assisted strip search. In a self-directed strip search, the inmate can remove his own clothing and move his own body parts at the direction of CCI staff members. The staff members do not touch private parts of the inmates' bodies during a self-directed strip search.

         If an inmate is resistant or uncooperative, the strip search will be staff assisted while the inmate is restrained. In a staff-assisted strip search, a staff member removes the inmate's clothing and checks the inmate's body, including mouth, hair, ears, fingers, armpits, and feet. The staff member also checks the inmate's private areas, including the inmate's scrotum and buttocks, using “bladed hands.” The term “bladed hands” means that the staff member keeps his fingers together and the palm and fingers flat as if he were laying his hand flat on the table. The staff member uses the side of the hand away from the thumb to slide under or between areas of the inmate's body to search for any contraband. All staff-assisted strip searches are video recorded.

         In the Segregation Unit at CCI, the staff members conduct strip searches near the shower area in the Segregation Unit. The cells within the Segregation Unit have window covers that the staff members can close, which would prevent other inmates from seeing outside their cells.

         C. The staff-assisted strip search of Lewis

         On October 17, 2014, defendant Stephen heard from another staff member that Lewis was threatening to hang himself. Stephen went to Lewis's cell and saw Lewis with a bedsheet draped around his neck and standing on his sink. Stephen asked Lewis to remove the bedsheet and step down from the sink, but Lewis refused. Moments later, other staff members including defendant Gerry arrived at Lewis's cell with shields. Stephen and Gerry both gave Lewis several orders to remove the bedsheet, but Lewis told them that he did not want to live anymore and that he was going to jump. Lewis was eventually persuaded to come down from his sink and to remove the bedsheet from his neck. Because Lewis had attempted to harm himself, Anderson placed Lewis in “observation status, ” and pursuant to policy a strip search was necessary. Dkt. 33, ¶ 9-10.

         Before escorting Lewis to the shower area for a strip search, Anderson ordered Lewis to kneel so that Lewis's legs could be restrained. Lewis complained that he had a medical condition that caused him to suffer excruciating pain if he were to kneel. According to Lewis, Anderson yelled at Lewis while he gave the order to kneel; defendants dispute this allegation. Lewis eventually complied with Anderson's order and had his legs restrained.

         Defendants and other staff members then escorted Lewis to the shower area for a strip search. Defendants have provided a diagram of the Segregation Unit to show where they conducted the search. Dkt. 33-2. A copy is attached at the end of this opinion. The letter “S” on the diagram indicates the location where defendants conducted the strip search, which is right outside the shower. As Lewis points out, Dkt. 47, ¶ 46, the diagram is not completely accurate, because the wall of the shower is actually in line with the walls of Cells 11 through 16. The video of the search confirms that Lewis is correct. This is a relatively minor detail, but the correction shows that it is easier for the inmate in Cell 21 to see the area where the strip search occurred. Defendants concede that “it was possible” that the inmate in Cell 21 “could have seen glimpses of the search.” Dkt. 28, ¶ 15. The parties agree, however, that among the spaces available in the Segregation Unit, the shower unit offers the most privacy for inmates and allows safety for staff members. Dkt. 47, ¶ 7.[1]

         Once in the shower area, Lewis was again ordered to kneel so that his leg restraints could be removed, and Lewis complained again about the pain. Although Lewis did not refuse to undergo a strip search at first, once the staff members removed Lewis's leg restraints, Lewis became belligerent towards the staff members. Dkt. 26, ¶ 9. Lewis said to the staff members that they would “have to fight [Lewis] because [he] ain't coming out” to the shower door for a strip search. Dkt. 47, ¶ 24. Lewis also said that the staff members “would need to use force on him, ” id. at ¶ 25, and that “he was going to make them gas and taze him, ” Dkt. 28, ¶ 9. Based on Lewis's defiant statements, Anderson determined that a staff-assisted search was necessary and directed another staff member to retrieve a video camera to record the search.

         Once the video camera arrived, the strip search began. The video and the parties' affidavits show that there were five CCI staff members present during Lewis's strip search: (1) Anderson, who ordered the strip search and observed the search; (2) Gerry, who held one of Lewis's arms; (3) another staff member, who held Lewis's other arm; (4) Stephen, who checked Lewis's body for contraband; and (5) another staff member, who operated the video camera. The video of the strip search shows Lewis facing a wall. Anderson directed Gerry and another staff ...

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