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Sierra-Lopez v. Mink

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

October 11, 2019

ANGELA MINK, et al., Defendants.



         Pro se plaintiff Kevin E. Sierra-Lopez filed this lawsuit against seventeen defendants, most of whom are employees of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (“DOC”), employed at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (“WSPF”). On June 13, 2019, Sierra-Lopez filed a proposed amended complaint. (Dkt. #24.) While normally at this stage the court would screen his amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A, his amended complaint, outlining two unrelated groups of claims and defendants, violates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20. Accordingly, Sierra-Lopez will be required to choose which lawsuit he would like to proceed on under this case number, and indicate whether he wishes to open another lawsuit to pursue his other claims.


         Plaintiff Kevin Sierra-Lopez was incarcerated at WSPF during the time when his claims arose. He names 17 defendants, who were either WSPF or DOC employees during the relevant time period. They are: Angela Mink, Mary Taylor, Correctional Officer Eck, Craig Tom, Michael Kemerling, Daryl Flannery, Scott Rubin-Asch, Stacey Hoem, Jaeger, Cathy Jess, Gary Boughton, Catherine Knuteson, Lacey Dickman, P. Fredrich, William Brown, Lebbeus Brown, and Ellen Ray.

         I. July 30, 2018, Attempt at Self-Harm

         On July 30, 2018, Sierra-Lopez reported to several correctional officers that he was having serious problems with his depression which were making him feel unstable. Those officers reported his symptoms to Mink, who responded that Sierra-Lopez should write his problems in a Psychological Service Request (“PSR”). This response worsened his condition, causing Sierra-Lopez to overdose on pills. While he was taken to Gunderson-Boscobe Hospital, apparently no one from WSPF informed the correctional officers handling his transport, or any personnel at the hospital, that Sierra-Lopez was having mental health problems or that he should be observed to prevent another incident of self-harm. As a result, defendants Taylor and Eck allowed Sierra-Lopez to bite his I.V. out of his arm in a second effort to harm himself.

         When Sierra-Lopez was returned to WSPF, neither Taylor, Eck nor Craig Tom (the supervising officer at WSPF at the time) notified any mental health staff at WSPF that he had tried to harm himself again. Sierra-Lopez claims that Kemerling, a nurse, and Flannery, a supervisor, also knew about the self-harm incident but failed to inform PSU staff as well.

         While Sierra-Lopez is vague about what happened next, but it appears he received a conduct report for the events that took place on July 30, 2018, charging him with acting out for attention. Allegedly to ensure that Sierra-Lopez was found guilty of the charges, on August 3, 2018, a PSU staff member, Stacey Hoem, completed a report omitting Sierra- Lopez's self harm incidents, and on September 6, 2018, Mink and Rubin-Asch “fabricated” Sierra-Lopez's mental health observation report by failing to include all of his self-harm attempts. On September 18, 2018, a disciplinary hearing was held to determine whether Sierra-Lopez was genuinely suffering from mental health problems on July 30. He claims that he not afforded an unbiased decision-maker as a result of several defendants' false reports leading up to the hearing, and he was found guilty and punished with 120 days in segregation, restitution requiring him to pay the costs associated with his hospital visit, and security restrictions on his prescription pills.

         Sierra-Lopez appealed, but Jaeger affirmed the determination from the disciplinary hearing, even though Jaeger allegedly knew about Hoem's misrepresentations in her report. Relatedly, Sierra-Lopez claims that his more limited access to his pain medication -- he could only receive it every five hours during the first and second shifts of the day, rather than possessing his pain medication in his cell -- amounted to cruel and unusual punishment because he was unable to take pain medication as needed.

         Sierra-Lopez claims that Jess, the DOC Secretary at the time, and Warden Boughton were responsible for the policies that allowed these constitutional violations to take place. In particular, he claims that they both were aware of his complaints about Mink, Taylor, Eck, Tom, Kemerling, Rubin-Asch, Hoem and Jaeger, but failed to intervene. Finally, Sierra-Lopez claims that on January 9, 2019, defendant Knuteson, the director of the Bureau of Offender Classification and Movement, ignored his serious mental health needs by failing to require that he be evaluated. He also claims that Knuteson gave him false instructions related to how he should exhaust his administrative remedies related to his claims, apparently to shield DOC employees from liability.

         II. 2019 Confiscation of Legal Materials

         Sierra-Lopez also challenges prison policies related to prisoner legal correspondence, which is allegedly tied to Jess's 2012 decision to require prisoners to use the U.S. postal service to send correspondence to other DOC prisoners. The details about what Jess actually did are unclear, but he alleges that in 2019, wardens at maximum security prisons were given the power to “do whatever they want” with prisoner legal correspondence, which led WSPF to treat prisoners in general population more favorable than prisoners in segregation. Specifically, while prisoners in general population were allowed to exchange legal correspondence during law library and recreation periods, prisoners in segregation, who do not have access to either the library or recreation, had no method of exchanging correspondence besides paying for mail.

         Sierra-Lopez claims that this policy led to the destruction of his legal materials related to pending litigation in early 2019. Specifically, on February 15, 2019, a jailhouse lawyer's cell was searched, and Sierra-Lopez's legal materials were confiscated, apparently because Sierra-Lopez did not use authorized channels to send the jailhouse lawyer his materials. Sierra-Lopez claims that Fredrich, a property officer, and Dickman, who recorded the cell search, both failed to properly classify his materials as legal correspondence, thus allowing them to be destroyed. Sierra-Lopez claims that Boughton failed to implement policies that would prevent this type of abuse and harassment, and that Unit Manager Lebbeus Brown and Sergeant Ward were involved in the plot to implicate the jailhouse lawyer. Finally, he claims that ...

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