By Christopher T. Kim
California corrections officers were making their rounds when inmate Lamont Shepard refused to identify himself. The corrections officers proceeded to remove Shepard from his cell and escorted him to a holding room. Shepard reported to a Lieutenant that he needed medical treatment because one of the corrections officers roughed him up while he was being escorted to the holding cell. Shepard alleges the Lieutenant offered to “maybe . . . work something out” and suggested Shepard recant his statement, but Shepard went forward with his complaint. That same day, Shepard was transferred to an administrative segregation unit, where he spent three months.
Shepard filed a Section 1983 lawsuit claiming that a correctional officer used excessive force while escorting him to a holding cell, and that the Lieutenant placed him in administrative segregation in retaliation for reporting the use of force incident. In Shepard v. Quillen, the Lieutenant claimed that section 3335(a) of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations required him to transfer Shepard to administrative segregation as soon as Shepard alleged the Lieutenant assaulted him. This regulation states that “[w]hen an inmate’s presence in an institution’s general inmate population presents an immediate threat to the safety of the inmate or others, endangers institution security or jeopardizes the integrity of an investigation of an alleged serious misconduct or criminal activity, the inmate shall be immediately removed from general population and be placed in administrative segregation.”
Specifically, the Lieutenant argued that this regulation is nondiscretionary as applied to prisoners who claim serious staff misconduct. For this reason, the Lieutenant argued that he did not place Shepard in administrative segregation because of any protected conduct; he did it to comply with the regulation.
The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument. It noted that section 3335 says nothing about reports of staff misconduct, but instead lists three grounds that, if satisfied, require placing an inmate in administrative segregation. While the Ninth Circuit recognized that an allegation of serious staff misconduct could trigger one of the grounds, it made clear that prison officials cannot place all inmates who complain about mistreatment in administrative segregation. The Ninth Circuit held that when an inmate complains of staff misconduct, a prison official must first determine whether leaving the inmate in the general population will create safety, security, or investigation-related concerns.
The Ninth Circuit highlighted the following key issues in this case which raised genuine issues of fact about whether the administrative segregation was retaliatory: the proximity in time between Shepard’s complaint and his placement in administrative segregation, the Lieutenant’s offer to “work something out,” the Lieutenant’s suggestion that Shepard should recant his claim, and the Lieutenant’s inconsistent statement on a CDCR form that the administrative segregation was for disciplinary purposes. Because the Ninth Circuit found there was virtually no evidence that Shepard needed to be transferred to protect himself or an investigation as required by the regulation and held that the regulation could not reasonably be interpreted as requiring nondiscretionary segregation of all complaining inmates, the Ninth Circuit ruled that there were legitimate fact issues regarding the Lieutenant’s motive for placing Shepard in administrative segregation, and therefore rejected the Lieutenant’s request for qualified immunity.
While the outcome of this case was not favorable for the Lieutenant, this case serves as a good reminder for all corrections officers when dealing with similar issues: general justifications for placing an inmate in administrative segregation following a complaint of staff misconduct is simply not enough. Based on the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in this case, one issue that was fatal for the Lieutenant was that there was no evidence to show that Shepard needed to be placed in administrative segregation for safety, security, or investigation-related concerns. If an inmate is segregated following a complaint of staff misconduct, be sure to document the specific reasons why an inmate should be placed in administrative segregation.