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Ramirez v. Sheriff of Dane County

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 19, 2019

SHERIFF OF DANE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


          WILLIAM M. CONLEY, District Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Gabriel G. Ramirez claims that on November 12, 2014, Dane County Jail Deputies L. Kranski, Sween, and Jane and John Doe used excessive force claim against him in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (dkt. #30), as well as a motion to dismiss the Doe defendants (dkt. #47). In response, plaintiff filed opposition materials, along with a renewed motion for assistance in recruiting counsel (dkt. #46). Part of of Ramirez's opposition was that he had not been allowed to review the surveillance video footage of the incident, prompting the court to defer ruling until completing its own in camera inspection of the video footage. (Dkt. #59.) See Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 679 (7th Cir. 2003) (acknowledging that precluding a prisoner from reviewing surveillance footage may be appropriate in certain circumstances, but a “blanket policy of keeping confidential security camera videotapes for safety reasons” is insufficient). After defendants provided a copy of the video footage to the court, Ramirez filed another motion opposing defendants' motions. (Dkt. #62.)

         Having reviewed the video footage and the parties' additional arguments, the court will: (1) grant defendants' motion to dismiss but deny their motion for summary judgment; (2) allow Ramirez the opportunity to review the video footage before trial; and (3) conduct a telephonic status conference to evaluate whether it should grant Ramirez's motion for assistance in recruiting counsel. If the court declines to recruit counsel on behalf of Mr. Ramirez, the court will re-set the trial schedule during that teleconference.


         A. Background

         Gabriel Ramirez arrived at the Dane County Jail on November 11, 2014, on a writ from Fox Lake Correctional Institution (“FLCI”) to appear at the Dane County Courthouse in a criminal matter. Defendants are Dane County Deputy Sheriffs Kranski, Sween, Jane Doe and John Doe, all of whom were assigned to the Dane County Jail on the morning of November 12, 2014.

         Among other policies, the Dane County Jail Inmate Handbook requires prisoners to follow all jail rules, follow staff directives, and avoid disorderly conduct. It likewise prohibits prisoners from threatening or harassing staff or other inmates. Directly relevant here, prisoners must present in full jail uniform for all standing headcounts, show themselves for headcounts, and wear their jail-issued uniform and footwear whenever they are out of their cell or bunk.

         After Ramirez was booked into the jail on November 11, he received a copy of the Inmate Handbook that outlined the policies and procedures of the Dane County Jail, and he admits that he was also familiar with these policies because he had already done time at that jail in the past. When Ramirez arrived for booking, he was wearing his FLCI uniform, but received a Dane County Jail uniform, although he did not put it on at that time.

         Jail staff conduct a prisoner count at designated times during the day or following incidents with security concerns. The morning head count generally took place in Ramirez's unit at approximately 5:00 a.m. Prisoners received ten-minute and five-minute warnings prior to the head count, as well as a final announcement over the intercom. During the final announcement, prisoners are again instructed to be standing in front of their bunks for head count and to be in their full jail uniform, which consists of a jail-issued blue shirt, blue pants and sandals, without any towels or headwear.

         B. The Incident

         Consistent with this general procedure, on November 12, 2014, the lights were turned on in Ramirez's unit at approximately 4:40 a.m. by Deputy Wollenzien, who was preparing to conduct the morning head count. When giving the five-minute warning, Wollenzien noticed that all of the inmates were standing and wearing jail uniforms, except for Ramirez. He was wearing a brown shirt. According to Ramirez, Wollenzien started yelling at him, and Ramirez says that he was confused and disoriented, which is why he failed to comply with Wollenzien's directive to change into his blue shirt. For his part, Wollenzien claims that he simply asked Ramirez to put on his blue shirt. Regardless, Ramirez did not comply, and Wollenzien told Ramirez a second time to put on the blue shirt.

         At that point, Ramirez claims to have asked why he needed to change since he was going to lay down after the head count. For a third time Wollenzien directed Ramirez to put on his blue shirt. After refusing to comply, Ramirez then told Wollenzien that he did not like the way he was speaking to him. During his deposition, Ramirez agreed that he was in violation of jail policy at that point, but also testified that he acted this way because he was still disoriented.

         Wollenzien then radioed for a Movement Team to take Ramirez to segregation. After Wollenzien made the call, however, he saw on a monitor that Ramirez had complied with his directive and put on a blue shirt. Still, two Movement Teams responded to Wollenzien's request, consisting of deputies Sween, Kranski, Brian Riley, and Michael Haure. According to defendants, Deputies Sween and Kranski saw Wollenzien telling Ramirez that if his disruptive behavior continued, he would be sent to segregation, and that Ramirez responded with a “thousand-yard stare, ” which they interpreted as threatening. In contrast, Ramirez claims Wollenzien threatened him, and he responded in a respectful tone, “you didn't have to talk to me like that, I'm not an animal.”

         At that point, Sween, Kranski, Riley and Haure entered Ramirez's cell as a team to take him to segregation. Now seated on the lower bunk, Ramirez refused to stand, requiring team members to bring him to his feet. According to defendants, Ramirez was agitated and tensing his muscles, which prompted one deputy to hold Ramirez against a wall to handcuff him. Ramirez describes this first contact differently: they “violently slammed him face first into a brick wall, ” in a way that caused him immense pain.

         Next, defendants claim that because they were unable to handcuff Ramirez, Sween attempted to grab Ramirez's right arm multiple times, but Ramirez kept pulling his hand away from Sween and across his face and body. Defendants further claim that Ramirez attempted to turn toward two other deputies, at which point Sween yelled at him to stop resisting or they would use additional force against him, including a taser. Ramirez then pushed himself off the wall and claims he told the officers, “stop, it doesn't have to be like this. Stop.”

         After Haure hooked his arm around Ramirez's neck to free him from the wall and prevent Ramirez from punching the deputies, Ramirez claims that the other deputies started “punching, kneeing, kicking and hitting Ramirez everywhere - in his side, ribs, back, thighs, stomach, legs and other parts of his body.” Defendant Sween describes his own actions as “three targeted knee strikes to Ramirez's side, abdominal, and hamstring.” According to Ramirez, the deputies then pushed him into a corner, and continued to punch, knee, kick, and beat him.

         For their part, defendants claim that Ramirez was still agitated, and he had moved to the corner of the room and grabbed the top bunk, which prompted Sween to strike Ramirez's forearm and torso to gain compliance, causing Ramirez to fall to the floor in front of the bunk with his arms tucked under his body. Even so, they claim Ramirez continued to struggle, and Sween struck Ramirez's thigh, back and side, all in an attempt to gain hold of Ramirez's right hand to place him in handcuffs. Ramirez denies that he was still struggling, and claims instead that Sween and the other deputies were trying to cause him pain, including kicking, kneeing and punching his groin area.

         Eventually, the deputies gained control of Ramirez on the floor. Sween held Ramirez's right leg, Kranski held his left leg and two other deputies held his upper body. Defendants claim that while handcuffing him behind his back, Ramirez flexed his upper body and yelled obscenities. Ramirez admits that he called the deputies “all kinds of names, ” but also claims that the deputies were pressing the handcuffs into his lower back and spine in a way that caused extreme pain. Ramirez also claims that Sween put his knee on his throat, and pressed down with his body weight in a way that made him choke and almost pass out. While this was happening, Ramirez heard another inmate yell, “Get off of him, ...

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