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Mathews v. Brown

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 17, 2017

DION MATHEWS, Plaintiff,
CAPTAIN LEBBEUS BROWN, et al., Defendants.


          STEPHEN L. CROCKER Magistrate Judge

         Pro se plaintiff Dion Mathews[1] is proceeding in this matter on Due Process and First Amendment claims against employees at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (WSPF). Those defendants were responsible for issuing him a conduct report and punishing him with 50 days of disciplinary separation status because he violated Wis. Admin. Code § DOC 303.24(2), which prohibits joining or soliciting others to join in any group petition or statement. Matthews has filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction (dkt. 31), Motion for Sanctions (dkt. 54), and three motions for assistance in recruiting counsel (dkts. 52, 67, 70).

         After reviewing the parties' submissions, I conclude that there are no material facts in dispute that would warrant a hearing. I am denying Mathews' motions because he has not submitted sufficient evidence that would entitle him to any of the relief he seeks.


         Mathews' claims in this lawsuit arise from one conduct report and punishment he received related to various letters that were found in his and another inmate's cell at WSPF.

         I. Conduct Report #2732167

         In 2015, WSPF staff found two letters in Mathews' cell. One letter, dated November 28, 2015, was directed to defendant Warden Gary Boughton. In it, Mathews wrote Boughton about “serious concerns” he had, such as his mattress being thin and old. He also asked Boughton to consider starting a weekly or monthly meeting for prison staff to address inmate concerns. Boughton responded in a letter on December 9, 2015, in which he stated that the standards at WSPF are consistent with other institutions and that WSPF meets basic needs and provides a safe environment to inmates.

         The second letter staff found in Mathews' cell was dated September 27, 2015, in Mathews' handwriting and stated that the proposal was “being brought forth by the prisoners of WSPF.” (DPFOF, dkt. 35, ¶ 15.) Apparently this letter has been destroyed, but defendants state that the letter used “demanding” language. (Id., ¶ 28).[2]

         In the course of another investigation, staff also found three letters drafted by Mathews in the cell of another inmate, Oscar Garner, a known jailhouse lawyer. One was a copy of the November 28, 2015, letter, and the second was what appeared to be a draft of the September 27, 2015, letter. The third letter was typed and dated December 21, 2015, addressed to Captains Gardner and Brown and WSPF Administration, used the terms “we propose” and “we ask, ” and appeared to be drafted based on the September 27 letter. (DPFOF, dkt. 35, ¶¶ 15-16.) Defendant Captain Brown investigated these letters and submitted a declaration about them. (Brown decl., dkt. 36.) When Brown asked Mathews about it, Mathews explained that Garner was helping him craft the letter. Also during Brown's investigation of Garner, Brown found communication between the leader of the Gangster Disciples gang and Garner. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Based on his investigation, Brown decided that the September 27 and December 21 letters constituted unlawful group petitions because they were not written on inmate complaint forms, were not addressed to the Inmate Complaint Examiner, contained multiple issues, used demanding language, involved other inmates and had been passed between cells from Mathews to Garner. Brown also believed that the letters presented the security risk of Gangster Disciple activity because he believes that Mathews is an active member of the Gangster Disciples who has been appointed to a position to make decisions for the Gangster Disciples in general population at WSPF.

         Mathews denies gang membership but he has not submitted other evidence on this point (which is unsurprising since this would involve proving a negative). For his part, Brown describes in detail how his experience brought him to his conclusion. Beyond working as a unit manager at WSPF, he has worked as WSPF's Security Threat Groups (STG) coordinator since 2003. His position involves numerous responsibilities, and as is relevant here includes:

“tracking disruptive groups and their members in the institution and documenting their activities . . . Preparing reports regarding group and gang activities for WSPF security staff and Security Threat Group Coordinators at other DOC institutions, instructing WSPF staff regarding gang identification and gang management strategies . . ., and assessing ongoing gang activity within the institution.”
(Id. ¶ 3.)

         In addition, since 1987 Brown has attended over 40 training sessions or meetings related to gang identification and investigations. (Brown decl, dkt. 36, ¶ 4.)

         With respect to the Gangster Disciples specifically, Brown states that this group has a history of coercion, intimidation, threats, and starting disturbances. In the past, demands made by gangs presented the risk of staff and inmate assaults. Brown also states his understanding that Mathews had previously be found guilty of participating in group petitions and resistance with a leader of the Gangster Disciples, and that Mathews appeared to be continuing that type of gang activity. With that backdrop in mind, on January 13, 2016, Brown issued Mathews Conduct Report #2732167, for violating Wis. Admin. Code. §§ DOC 303.24(2) “Group Resistance and Petitions, ” 303.31 “Lying, ” and 303.47 “Possession of Contraband - Miscellaneous.”

         On January 19, 2016, a disciplinary hearing was held. Mathews appeared and denied being a member of the Gangster Disciples and denied the charges in the conduct report. Defendant Lieutenant Cichanowicz concluded that Brown was credible but Mathews was not. (Ray decl., Ex. 102., dkt. 37-3, at 16-18.) Lt. Cichanowicz found Mathews guilty of violating Wis.Stat. § 303.24(2), Group Resistence and Petitions. Cichanowicz sentenced Mathews to 120 days of disciplinary segregation.

         II. Mathews' Punishment for Conduct Report #2732167

         Inmates on disciplinary separation status progress through a step program, with step 1 allowing the fewest privileges, step 2 in the middle and step 3, allowing the most privileges. Although he had been sentenced to 120 days, Mathews only stayed on disciplinary separation status for 50 days, from January 19, until March 9. He was on step 1 from January 19 to February 2, step 2 from February 3 to February 21, and step 3 from February 22 to March 9. On March 9 Mathews had an administrative confinement hearing and he was placed on administrative confinement status.

         From March 9, 2016, to the present, Mathews has been housed on administrative confinement status, where he has the same privileges as inmates on step 3 disciplinary separation status. Since then, Matthew's administrative confinement status has been reviewed a total of three times, and each time the administrative confinement committee has decided to continue that status. Following Mathews's March 2016 review, the committee unanimously recommended Mathews' placement on administrative confinement based on: (1) a February 29, 2016, recommendation by Captain Primmer concluding that Mathews' presented a threat to staff, other inmates, and the security of the institution; (2) Mathews's conduct record; (3) his history of homicidal, assaultive, or other violent behavior; (4) that his presence in general population poses a substantial risk; and (5) his active gang affiliation.

         The second review of his placement occurred in August of 2016. The committee again agreed that administrative confinement was necessary because: (1) Mathews's conduct record and history of violent behavior warranted placement; (2) staff had identified Mathews as being affiliated with an inmate or street gang; and (3) the committee concluded that Mathews's presence in general population posed a risk to others. (Ex. 101 to Ray Decl, dkt. 37-1, at 5.)

         On February 22, 2017 the committee again reviewed Mathews's placement on administrative confinement. The committee concluded that administrative confinement was necessary for the reasons previously stated, but this time one committee member dissented because Mathews had not been found guilty of a “gang related offense” since 2011. (Dkt. 50-1, at 1.) As a result, Warden Boughton had to review the committee's finding. He concluded that continued administrative confinement was appropriate because Conduct Report #2732167 was a “gang related offense” and the “pattern of negative behavior coupled with the recent incident of possessing materials containing demands intended to be sent to the Warden warrants placement.” (See dkt. 50-2.)

         Defendants have described the conditions and privileges available in restrictive housing. Mathews disputes some of defendants' descriptions based on his and other inmates' experiences. Here is an overview, including Mathews' points of dispute (set out in italics):

• Inmates in restrictive housing receive 5-10 hours of out of cell activity per week. Staff encourage indoor and outdoor recreation when it's available and the weather permits.
Mathews disputes this, claiming that he receives at most five hours of out-of-cell activity per week, that often he loses one 75-minute period for miscellaneous reasons, and that staff ...

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