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Ajibade v. Wilcher

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

March 28, 2019

SOLOMAN OLUDAMISI AJIBADE, as natural parent of Mathew Ajibade; ADENIKE HANNAH AJIBADE, as natural parent of Mathew Ajibade; THE ESTATE OF MATHEW AJIBADE; CHRIS OLADAPO, as executor, Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN WILCHER, in his official capacity as Chatham County Sheriff; CORIZON HEALTH, INC.; GREGORY BROWN; FREDERICK BURKE; ABRAM BURNS; MARK CAPERS; MAXINE EVANS; ANDREW EVANS-MARTINEZ; PAUL FOLSOME; DEBRA JOHNSON; JASON KENNY; ERIC VINSON, Defendants.

          ORDER

          R. STAN BAKER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher's Motion for Summary Judgment as to all claims alleged against him by the Plaintiffs. (Doc. 193.) This case arises from the January 2015 death of Mathew Ajibade while in the Sheriff's custody at the Chatham County Detention Center (“CCDC”). (Doc. 21.) Ajibade's parents and his estate filed this suit against the Sheriff, various corrections officers at the CCDC, the company supplying health services at the CCDC at the time of Ajibade's death, and a nurse on duty at the time of Ajibade's death. (Id.) Against the Sheriff, Plaintiffs assert claims for deliberate indifference to Ajibade's serious medical needs (by maintaining a pattern and practice of substandard medical conditions for detainees) and wrongful death.[1] (Id.) The Sheriff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, claiming that the deliberate indifference claim against him fails due to a lack of the necessary evidentiary support, (doc. 193-1, pp. 9-30), and that Plaintiffs' wrongful death claim as well as his request for punitive damages both fail as a matter of law, (id. at pp. 30-31). Plaintiffs filed a Response in opposition, (doc. 231), and the Sheriff filed a Reply, (doc. 248).

         No one disputes the tragedy of Matthew Ajibade's death and the emotional pain that his family has no doubt endured. However, under Section 1983, Sherriff Wilcher cannot be held legally responsible for that tragedy merely due to his supervisory position. Rather, he must have personally participated in a deprivation of Ajibade's constitutional rights or have established a policy, practice or custom that led to such a deprivation. The undisputed evidence in this case establishes that Sheriff Wilcher did neither. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant Sheriff John Wilcher's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 193.)

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         A. Arrest and Detention of Mathew Ajibade

         The following facts relevant to the disposition of the Sheriff's Motion are undisputed.

         On the evening of January 1, 2015, officers with the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department arrested Mathew Ajibade for the battery of his girlfriend and they transported him to the CCDC. (Doc. 181-19 (Owens Depo.), pp. 9-12, 32; doc. 231-2, pp. 1-3.)[2] Ajibade was initially placed in a holding cell where he remained for several hours. (Id. at pp. 6-8.) At or around 11:28 p.m., a CCDC officer retrieved Ajibade from the holding cell and took him into a common area to commence the booking process. (Id. at pp. 7-8.) During the booking process, a physical struggle between Ajibade and four officers ensued, and one officer called for back-up assistance. (CM136_Pre_Booking_#4_1 at 11:28:36 through 11:34:02 PM.)[3] During the struggle, one officer is believed to have drive-stunned Ajibade with a Taser before Ajibade was able to take the Taser from her, at which point he held the Taser up at the officers.[4] (Doc. 231-2, pp. 15-17; doc. 181-12 (Johnson Depo.), p. 266.) During the struggle, one officer was injured and ultimately required medical attention. (Doc. 181-12 (Johnson Depo.), p. 122.) Over the next few minutes, multiple officers arrived on scene in response to the call for back-up assistance. (CM136_Pre_Booking_#4_1 at 11:34:02 through 11:37:17 PM.)

         Lieutenant Debra Johnson, who was the watch commander that evening, arrived in the booking area around 11:36:45 p.m. (Id. at 11:36:45 PM.) At this point, Ajibade was lying face down on the floor with approximately seven officers holding and/or hovering over him. (Id. at 11:36:55 PM.) After walking over to observe the huddled mass, Johnson retrieved a nearby Taser and (as shown from the video footage) removed something from it. (Id. at 11:36:56 through 11:37:15 PM.) She then walked back over to the group and placed the Taser onto Ajibade's lower body and told Ajibade that he needed to “calm down and let them put the restraints” on him or he would be drive-stunned. (Id. at 11:37:20 through 11:37:33 PM; doc. 181-12 (Johnson Depo.), pp. 175-76.) In response, Ajibade calmed down and, once hand and leg restraints were secured onto him, Johnson stood back up and removed the Taser from Ajibade's skin. (Doc. 181-12 (Johnson Depo.), p. 176; CM136_Pre_Booking_#4_1 at 11:37:42 PM.) It is undisputed that Johnson did not actually tase (or drive-stun) Ajibade. (Doc. 231-2, p. 19.)

         Once Ajibade's hands and feet were restrained, Johnson instructed the officers to take Ajibade to a nearby detox cell and place him in a restraint chair for his safety and the safety of others. (Id.) A group of officers carried Ajibade away from the booking area. (CM136_Pre_Booking_#4_1 at 11:39:17 through 11:39:34 PM.)

         It is undisputed that, instead of placing Ajibade in the nearby detox cell as instructed by Johnson, the officers took Ajibade and the restraining chair to a different holding cell. (Doc. 231-2, pp. 19-20.) While the officers were carrying Ajibade to the cell, Corporal Jason Kenny arrived on the scene. (Id. at p. 20.) Multiple officers, including Kenny, went inside the holding cell and participated in the process of placing and securing Ajibade into the restraining chair. (See generally CM117FemaleHolding#2.) At some point during the process, Kenny requested a Taser, and another officer obtained it from Johnson. (Doc. 181-12 (Johnson Depo.), p. 136.) According to his own testimony, Kenny discharged the Taser once while pointing it at the ground (as both a means of testing it and as a “show of force” in an effort to gain compliance from Ajibade without actually applying it to him). (Doc. 181-13 (Kenny Depo.), p. 145:12-19). Because Ajibade continued to resist even after the test engagement, Kenny then drive-stunned Ajibade. (Id. at pp. 145:12-25, 147:13-23.) Kenny ultimately drive-stunned Ajibade a total of four times because Ajibade continued to resist officers' efforts to secure him in the restraint chair. (Id. at pp. 145, 148-53, 155, 197-98; doc. 181-20 (Samuel Richardson Depo.), p. 62; doc. 219-1 (Burt Ambrose Examination Under Oath by Plaintiffs), p. 20; doc. 219-2 (David Cody Depo.), pp. 53-54; doc. 114-7 (Mark Capers Depo.), p. 9.) At some point, a spit mask was placed onto Ajibade's face. (Doc. 181-13, pp. 19, 215.)

         At 11:47:04 p.m., Johnson returned to the vicinity of the cell, accompanied by Nurse Gregory Brown, whom she had asked to come check Ajibade upon his having finally been fully restrained in the chair. (Doc. 181-12, p. 153; CM117_Female_Holding_#2 at 11:47:04 PM.) Both Johnson and Brown entered the cell, and Kenny remained inside the cell. (CM117_Female_Holding_#2 at 11:47:04 PM; doc. 181-12, p. 154.) Nurse Brown had been present when another officer informed Johnson that Ajibade had been tased during the initial struggle in the booking area. (Doc. 181-12 (Johnson Depo.), pp. 201-02.) Johnson does not recall anyone telling Nurse Brown (or Johnson, for that matter) that Ajibade had been drive-stunned multiple times while being placed in the restraint chair. (Id. at p. 200.) Johnson and Nurse Brown were in the cell for just under a minute. (CM117_Female_Holding_#2 at 11:47:06 through 11:47:57 PM.) While Nurse Brown was performing his check, Johnson conversed with Kenny and she heard Ajibade moaning, in her opinion, “like he was angry” and in a way that indicated to her that “definitely . . . he was coherent.” (Doc. 181-12 (Johnson Depo.), p. 205.) Her testimony is that, because she was busy speaking to Kenny, she did not see everything that Nurse Brown did and she only recalls Nurse Brown saying he was checking Ajibade's legs and hands and watching him actually check Ajibade's hands. (Id. at pp. 197-98.) She also recalls Nurse Brown speaking to Ajibade, though she cannot recall what he said. (Id. at pp. 196-97.) She denies observing any blood on Ajibade at this time. (Id. at p. 198.) After she and Nurse Brown left the cell, Johnson was under the impression that another officer was routinely checking on Ajibade pursuant to policy, and she left the scene to attend to her other duties as watch commander that night. (Id. at pp. 238-40.) At 1:35 a.m., approximately an hour and forty-five minutes after Ajibade was secured in the chair, he was found unresponsive, and he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. (Doc. 231-2, p. 24.)

         B. Relationship between the CCDC and Corizon Health, Inc.

         At the time Ajibade was detained at the CCDC, Corizon Health Services, Inc. (hereinafter, “Corizon”) was the contracted medical provider at the facility (and was Nurse Brown's employer). Plaintiffs' deliberate indifference claim against the Sheriff relies heavily on the theory that the Sheriff was aware that Corizon “was providing inadequate care, that he allowed Corizon to continue, and that deaths such as [A]ibade's] were a known and obvious consequence of his decision to keep his contractor.” (Doc. 231-1, p. 15; see also doc. 21, pp. 16- 17.) As a result, the Court must examine and discuss the undisputed evidence specified and provided by the parties in connection with these allegations.

         It is undisputed that, in August 2014, a Corizon employee, Ms. Riner, raised concerns to a jail administrator about Corizon. (Doc. 193-1, p. 21; doc. 231-1, p. 3.) While the parties provide varying descriptions of Ms. Riner's concerns, the Sheriff points to evidence-which Plaintiffs have not disputed-that, in response, the Sheriff ordered an investigation regarding the concerns Ms. Riner had presented to the administrator. (Doc. 193-1, pp. 21-22.) The parties also agree that, on August 26, 2014, several representatives of the CCDC (including the Sheriff and Corrections Compliance Manager Melissa Kohne) and several representatives of Corizon (including Ms. Riner and a Corizon physician) met to discuss Ms. Riner's concerns. (Id. at p. 22.; doc. 231-1, p. 3.) In their Response brief, Plaintiffs present a list detailing nine concerns that they claim were among those discussed at the meeting. (doc. 231-1, pp. 3-4.) Plaintiffs, however, fail to provide any record citations to support this list, and the Sheriff, in his Reply brief, disputes the accuracy of this list. (See Doc. 248, pp. 4-5.) Notably, even if the Court could accept the list without record evidence, it does not include any concerns about mental or physical health examinations of detainees during intake or booking, mental health screenings of detainees in general, examinations of detainees after use of force incidents, examinations of detainees after they are secured in a restraint chair, or Nurse Brown (i.e., any performance issues or concerns about him). (See Doc. 231-1, pp. 3-4.) The Sheriff's brief states that, at the meeting, a Corizon physician “expressed a general concern about the adequacy of the healthcare Corizon provided to the inmates at the CCDC, questioning whether medications were being properly distributed, ” but he “did not identify a single bad patient outcome that allegedly resulted from the alleged issue with medications.” (Doc. 193-1, p. 22.) Moreover, Plaintiffs do not point to any evidence regarding (much less corroborating) the doctor's concerns. The Sheriff also indicates that, at the meeting, the group discussed issues Corizon was having with high staffing turnover and whether a specific Corizon employee was technically qualified to hold her job title. (Id.) In sum, there is no evidence that the meeting involved or included a discussion of any issues resembling or relating to the types of constitutional violations alleged by Plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

         The Sheriff additionally points to evidence that, in June or July of 2014, the Medical Association of Georgia (“MAG”) audited Corizon's operations at the CCDC and found the facility in compliance with the applicable standards for health services in jails.[5] (See generally Doc. 190-11.)

         Perhaps the most frustrating shortcoming by Plaintiffs with regard to record citations to support their allegations of Corizon's inadequacies comes on pages 16 and 17 of their Response brief, where they state the following:

As evidence that the decision to retain Corizon subjected detainees like Mathew to constitutionally inadequate mental-health and medical care, Plaintiffs tendered the expert reports of Lori Roscoe, Mike Berg, and Mary Perrien. These experts agree that retaining Corizon was problematic for the Sheriff. Plaintiffs' expert, Dr. Roscoe, a former MAG auditor, will testify that Corizon would have flunked an audit if the truth about Corizon's operation had been disclosed to auditors. The June 2015 audit did not affirm Corizon's good medical stewardship-it validated the legitimate concerns of Nurse Riner, Medical Director Pugh, Medical Director Faulks, and others.

(Doc. 231-1, pp. 16-17.) As displayed, Plaintiffs neglect to include a single citation to any part of the record to support these allegations. Not only did Plaintiffs not cite to Dr. Roscoe's report, they apparently failed to include a copy of her report in the record as the Court has been unable to locate it despite a diligent search. And, while Mr. Berg and Ms. Perrien's reports are part of the record, Mr. Berg's is 88 pages long, and Ms. Perrien's two reports total 39 pages in length; the Court declines to search through these reports for support where Plaintiff has failed to provide any citation or quotation.[6] Moreover, Plaintiffs' use of vague terms and phrases such as “retaining Corizon was problematic for the Sheriff” and “Corizon would have ‘flunked' the audit, ” (id. (emphases added)), to describe the experts' purported opinions fails to provide any meaningful evidentiary support for Plaintiffs' legal arguments. In fact, Plaintiffs fail to actually indicate what was “problematic” about retaining Corizon or what the “truth about Corizon's operation” was that would have provided a basis for Corizon to have theoretically “flunked” a MAG audit. The Court is unable to discern from these assertions that the alluded-to shortcomings would have in any way been related to the constitutional violations alleged by Plaintiffs here.

         Similarly, in the very next paragraph of their Response, Plaintiffs egregiously misconstrue testimony from Ms. Kohne (the CCDC compliance manager) in an effort to provide evidence that the Sheriff was aware of widespread failures by Corizon to provide medical care to detainees and that the Sheriff therefore violated federal law by not terminating Corizon in response. (Id. at p. 17.) That paragraph states:

In the months prior to Mathew's death, the Sheriff, his secretary, the Chief Deputy, jail administrators, majors and captains received phone calls from detainees' family members concerned that Corizon was not providing medical care. Kohne Dep. 47:3-14, 139:24-140:5. When asked how many of these calls she personally fielded, Assistant Jail Administrator Melissa Kohne responded, “I could not even guesstimate how many times.” Id. at 139:19-25. These concerns would later be characterized by private consultants hired by the Sheriff as a ...

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