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Scheetz v. Vooren

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

November 21, 2017

DARYL SCHEETZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CRYSTAL VAN VOOREN, Major Special Security, in her individual and official capacity; and HUNTER SUMMERS, Lieutenant Special Security, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          KAREN E. SCHREIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Daryl Scheetz, filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arguing that defendants violated his constitutional rights (Docket 1) and later amended his complaint. Docket 66. Defendants Crystal Van Vooren and Hunter Summers filed a second motion for summary judgment. Docket 109. Scheetz opposes the motion. Docket 117.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Scheetz, as the non-moving party, the facts are:

In 2007, Scheetz pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to serve 15 years imprisonment. Docket 75-3 ¶ 3. On January 26, 2012, Scheetz signed a Suspended Sentence Supervision Agreement. Docket 75-8. In this agreement, Scheetz agreed to follow the rules of the Department of Corrections (DOC). Id. He also acknowledged he had been advised that violating the supervision agreement could result in his suspended sentence being imposed. Id. In July 2012, while Scheetz was incarcerated at Mike Durfee State Prison (MDSP), he was investigated for smuggling tobacco into the prison. Docket 41-2. The investigation involved a correctional officer employed at MDSP. Docket 115-1 at 3. In July or August of 2012 Scheetz was transferred to the South Dakota State Penitentiary (SDSP). Docket 41-10; Docket 75-2 ¶ 5.

         Prison officials place a higher priority on investigations involving staff. Docket 115-1 at 3. As a result, prison officials attempted to get Scheetz to cooperate in the investigation involving the correctional officer. See Docket 115-1; Docket 115-6. Warden Weber directed MDSP official Leland Tjeerdsma to visit Scheetz in the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU) and try to induce Scheetz to provide information about the investigation. Docket 115-6 at 3. Tjeerdsma interviewed Scheetz at SDSP and testified that he laid out Scheetz's options-that Scheetz could provide Tjeerdsma with information on the investigation or he could remain silent. Id. Tjeerdsma made it clear to Scheetz that, if Scheetz remained silent, he would “never see Springfield (MDSP) again.” Id. Several months later, Tjeerdsma described Scheetz's behavior during the investigation to Van Vooren in an email stating “Inmate Scheetz was very uncooperative in [the] investigation, at one point Warden Weber directed me to tell Inmate Scheetz that if he continued to be uncooperative Warden Weber would be scheduling him for an Ad Seg hearing. (Inmate Scheetz never did cooperate.).” Docket 115-10 at 4.

         On July 12, 2012, Leland Tjeerdsma emailed Van Vooren asking whether Scheetz had been cooperative in prior investigations because “I currently have inmate Scheetz in the SHU under investigation for having an officer bring tobacco in for him.” Docket 115-10 at 4. Van Vooren then forwarded the email to Summers and Summers responded to Tjeerdsma. Id. On July 27, 2012, prison officials determined that Scheetz had committed Major Prohibited Act 5-17, and he was sentenced to ninety days in disciplinary segregation. Docket 41-9. On August 7, 2012, Scheetz received notice of an Administrative Segregation Hearing for possible placement in Administrative Segregation (Ag Seg) to be held on August 14, 2012, as a result of his involvement with smuggling tobacco with a member of the prison staff. Docket 41-11. On August 14, 2012, the board found that Scheetz had committed three minor and one major prohibited act in the last year. Docket 41-12. Thus, he was assigned to the “Ad Seg/Population” for ninety days. Id.

         On August 27, 2012, the South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a violation report because Scheetz's smuggling infraction violated the conditions of his parole. Docket 75-7 at 2. The parole department scheduled a hearing for April. Docket 75-4 ¶¶ 11-13. On April 8, 2013, the parole board dismissed the alleged violation. Docket 51-1. In his amended complaint, Scheetz alleges that defendants were aware of the parole board's decision because it is accessible through the DOC Comprehensive Offender Management System (COMS) to which the defendants had access and that “at the very least it was common knowledge through the prison grapevine.” Docket 66 ¶¶ 15, 17. Scheetz also alleges that his lack of cooperation with the investigation at SDSP “angered” the defendants. Id. ¶ 14. Troy Ponto testified during his deposition that the contraband investigation at MDSP in July 2012 was a “big” issue that would have likely filtered down the ranks. Docket 110-4 at 3. Tjeerdsma testified that employees could learn information about parole board activities by simply asking onsite prison staff who were involved with the parole board process. Docket 115-6 at 5. Also, on April 16, 2013, Mike Vonsik, a corrections analyst for the Board of Pardons and Paroles, circulated an email to prison officials[2] detailing the results of the parole board's decision. Docket 75-4 at 2; Docket 115-11 at 6.

         On April 17, 2013, Scheetz's visitors were put on Class II visits, meaning the visits took place behind glass through a phone, there was no contact allowed, and only one visitor was allowed at a time. Docket 51-2; Docket 66 at 3. This was nine days after the board dismissed the parole violation allegation. Docket 51-11 ¶ 11. Between his release from the SHU after he arrived at SDSP and April 2013, Scheetz had Class I visiting status. Id. ¶¶ 6, 10. Under DOC policy, “Inmates may be allowed visits with approved visitors except where there is suspicion that such visitation would jeopardize the security, safety, or the disciplined operation of an institution.” Docket 41-14 at 1.

         Defendants contend that in April 2013, SDSP staff gathered information that led them to believe that Scheetz was involved with a scheme to smuggle contraband with another inmate, Nathaniel Hayes, and that the staff put Scheetz's visitors on Class II status because of his association with Hayes. Docket 75-1 ¶ 6; Docket 87 at 4. Scheetz maintains that he did not know Hayes and was not associated with him in any way before he was accused of smuggling with Hayes. Docket 51-11 ¶¶ 13-15. In an affidavit, Hayes states that he had never met Scheetz before he was accused by prison security of smuggling contraband with him, that he never received money from Scheetz for contraband, and that he never mentioned Scheetz on a phone call from prison. Docket 51-10 ¶¶ 1-5.

         Hunter Summers previously submitted a sworn statement to the court where he stated that Hayes was a “known associate” of Scheetz. Docket 75-1 at 3. At his deposition, Summers acknowledged that his previous statement about Hayes and Scheetz's association was not based on his personal knowledge. Id. at 7. And Summers could not identify a reason why Scheetz came under suspicion for smuggling contraband with Hayes. Id. at 7. Summers also stated that, as of April 2013, Scheetz was not suspected of smuggling contraband and was instead suspected of supplying money to a third party, but Summers acknowledged that he could not identify any evidence of that conduct. Id. at 8. Summers has also previously stated in his affidavit that “Special Security staff at the SDSP were not, in any way, involved with the investigation which had been conducted at the MDSP.” Docket 75-1 ¶ 24. But subsequent discovery indicates that Special Security Staff knew of, and were involved in, the April 2012 investigation at MDSP. See Docket 41-16 ¶¶ 13-14; Docket 115-10 at 4-5.

         On April 17, 2013, Crystal Van Vooren sent a letter to Scheetz informing Scheetz that his visitation status was changed to Class II. Docket 51-2. Van Vooren testified at her deposition that she did not provide Scheetz with an explanation as to why his visitation status changed. Docket 115-2 at 5. And Van Vooren acknowledged that she could not recall why Scheetz's visitation status was changed. Id. at 7.

         Scheetz filed an Informal Resolution Request on April 24, 2013, asking about his visitation status. Docket 75-11. In the request he claimed that there was “no reason for this punishment” even though prison policy requires prison staff to give him a reason in this situation, and he requested Class I visitation status. Id. In June 2013, Scheetz sent a letter to Warden Robert Dooley explaining the situation. Docket 66 at 4. During Dooley's walk through of SDSP, Scheetz approached Dooley and asked Dooley about his visit restriction. Id. at 5. Dooley told Scheetz that he received his letter but that he would not change Scheetz's visit status. Id. Dooley avers that, during this meeting, Scheetz did not mention that he believed defendants were retaliating against him for the dismissal of his parole violation. Docket 75-2 ¶ 7.

         In his amended complaint, Scheetz alleges that he had a chance meeting with Director of Security Clifford Fantroy and asked him to look into his visit status. Docket 66 at 4. Later, Scheetz spoke to Fantroy again, and Fantroy told him that his name was not on any type of investigation at the prison and that Fantroy could not understand what was going on. Id.; see also Docket 75-14 at 2 (Scheetz claiming in a Request for Administrative ...


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