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Ward v. Smith

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 21, 2016

Kevin Ward Plaintiff- Appellant
Bradley Smith; Dustin Merriett Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: September 22, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Springfield

          Before COLLOTON, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         Kevin Ward sued correctional officers Bradley Smith and Dustin Merriett under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the officers used excessive force when they administered pepper spray to gain Ward's compliance with orders to submit to wrist restraints. After conducting a two-and-a-half day bench trial, the district court[1]granted judgment in favor of the officers. Ward appeals the district court's judgment, and we affirm.


         After receiving evidence in this case, the district court found the following. On October 26, 2009, Ward was an inmate of the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) as a convicted person serving a sentence of imprisonment and was housed in the Administrative Segregation Unit (Ad Seg) at the South Central Correctional Center (SCCC). Officers Smith and Merriett worked at the SCCC as correctional officers. On that date at approximately 9:20 p.m., Officer Merriett ordered Ward to stop talking to another inmate who was housed in a different cell in Ad Seg. Ward refused the order. Officer Smith approached Ward's cell and ordered Ward to submit to wrist restraints, which would require Ward to place his hands behind his back and through a food port for an officer to apply handcuffs, in order for correctional staff to search Ward's cell. Ward refused the order to submit to wrist restraints.

         Officer Smith contacted SCCC medical staff and confirmed that Ward had no medical condition that would prohibit the use of pepper spray to force Ward to comply with the order, and then Officer Smith received authorization from the shift supervisor to use force in the form of pepper spray. Officers Smith and Merriett and a third correctional officer approached Ward's cell, ordered him to submit to restraints, and when he refused administered a three-to-five second burst of pepper spray through the food port in Ward's cell. Approximately ten minutes later, Officer Smith again asked Ward to comply with the order to submit to wrist restraints, and this time Ward refused and placed his mattress in front of his food port. Officer Merriett moved the mattress aside using a barricade removal assistance device, and Officer Smith administered a second round of pepper spray into Ward's cell. During this second incident, Ward received a small cut on his arm.

         Shortly thereafter, Ward complied with the request to submit to the wrist restraints. He was restrained, removed from his cell, and placed in a strip-out cell in the Ad Seg unit. The strip-out cell is approximately the size of a telephone booth. The officers removed the wrist restraints, strip searched Ward, removed his clothing from his possession, and provided him a security smock, which is a thin, padded blanket that can be placed over the body to cover the front and back but is open on the sides. Ward tied the smock around his lower body. A jail nurse treated the cut on Ward's arm by washing it with saline solution and placing a bandage over the cut. After officers had completed the search of Ward's cell and removed all personal items as punishment for Ward's failure to comply with an order, Officer Smith approached Ward in the strip-out cell and ordered him to again submit to wrist restraints so that he could be transported back to his cell. Ward responded by placing his hands over his face, and Officer Smith administered pepper spray directly toward Ward's face through the grated walls of the strip-out cell. Ward began coughing and claimed that he had asthma. The nurse returned and confirmed through an oximeter that Ward's oxygen levels were normal.

         Officer Smith returned to the strip-out cell and ordered Ward to submit to the wrist restraints. Ward responded by covering his head and upper body with the security smock. Officer Smith placed the pepper spray canister at the food port of the strip-out cell and sprayed the pepper spray for a few seconds at a distance of less than three feet from Ward. Officer Smith claimed he was attempting to direct the spray underneath the security smock and towards Ward's face. At least some of the pepper spray made contact with Ward's bare genitals. After a few minutes, Ward agreed to be restrained, and he was then returned to his cell where he had access to running water but not soap.

         Ward brought this suit, claiming, as relevant, that Officers Smith and Merriett violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, that he sustained injuries from the administration of the pepper spray including suffering the Hydraulic Needle Effect, [2] and that their actions constituted an intentional infliction of emotional distress under Missouri state law.

         The district court conducted a bench trial, hearing testimony from Ward, Officer Smith, Officer Merriett, other SCCC employees, and other SCCC inmates. The court also reviewed a video that captured at least the final two administrations of pepper spray to Ward while he was in the strip-out cell.

         After the bench trial, the court entered a written judgment, holding there was no Eighth Amendment violation in the administration of pepper spray because Ward had been lawfully ordered to submit to wrist restraints and refused to comply with the orders and the use of force was not disproportionate to the security concerns, and therefore it was not cruel or unusual. As to the fourth administration of pepper spray, the court found, based on the video evidence and Officer Smith's testimony, that Officer Smith did not intentionally spray Ward's genitals; rather, Officer Smith was attempting to direct the spray under the security smock toward Ward's face. The district court also ...

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