from the United States District Court No.
8:12-cv-00288-VMC-TGW for the Middle District of Florida
ED CARNES, Chief Judge, MARTIN, and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges.
CARNES, CHIEF JUDGE
Eugene Sears is a Florida inmate who claims that three
correctional officers physically assaulted him and that one
of them sprayed a chemical agent on him for 16 minutes after
he was handcuffed and compliant. He also claims that three
supervisory officers watched the attack without doing
anything to intervene. This is Sears' appeal from the
district court's grant of summary judgment to the
correctional officers on his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive
force and deliberate indifference claims. The district
court's misreading of our decision in O'Bryant v.
Finch, 637 F.3d 1207 (11th Cir. 2011), led it to limit
the evidence from Sears that it considered and to credit the
defendants' version of events over Sears' sworn
allegations. We vacate the judgment and remand for further
appeal arises from events that occurred at the Polk
Correctional Institution in Polk City, Florida. Because of
the procedural posture of the case, we view all the evidence
in the light most favorable to Sears and will assume that the
facts he alleged in his verified complaint, sworn response,
and affidavit are true. See Hamilton v. Southland
Christian Sch., Inc., 680 F.3d 1316, 1318 (11th Cir.
morning of March 18, 2010, Sears was inside his prison
dormitory when he was approached by Robert Dees, a
correctional officer. Sears ignored Dees' attempt to make
conversation and refused his order to submit to a pat-down
search. As Sears started to leave the dormitory, Dees reached
out and grabbed him by the shoulder. Sears "snatched
away" and told Dees not to touch him. Dees again grabbed
Sears and verbally threatened him, letting go only when
another officer intervened.
free from Dees' grip, Sears left the dormitory and went
to Colonel Vernia Roberts' office to complain about Dees.
When Roberts refused to see him because he didn't have a
pass, Sears headed outside to talk to Captain Felishia
Dexter, who had just exited another dormitory. While Sears
was telling her about what Dees had done, Officers Dwight
Smith and Steven Plough approached and said that they had
received a radio call from Dees about Sears. Sears told them
that Dees was just retaliating against him.
and Plough tried to handcuff Sears, but Sears resisted and,
in his words, "refused to allow myself to be
handcuffed." At this point, Sergeant David Prince
arrived on scene and began spraying Sears in the face with a
chemical agent. Then Smith and Plough "slammed"
Sears to the ground and handcuffed his hands behind his back.
While Sears was restrained in that way, Smith began punching
him in the back of his head and on the side of his face, and
Plough grabbed Sears around the neck and choked him. Sears
cried out that he couldn't breathe. Through it all Prince
kept spraying Sears in the face with the chemical agent.
Sears was still lying on the ground handcuffed, Smith stood
on Sears' right leg, shackled his ankles, and repeatedly
pushed his face into the dirt. Plough then punched Sears
several times in the ribs and kicked him in the back.
Finally, Smith and Plough lifted Sears to his feet, and
Prince began spraying him in the face with a second canister
of chemical agent. Sears swears that the whole physical
altercation lasted for about 16 minutes. He also swears that
during the entire time Dexter, Roberts, and Lieutenant
Jeffrey Hart watched and did nothing to help.
the correctional officers had finished spraying and hitting
Sears, Plough and Smith escorted him to the medical building,
and Roberts and Hart followed. Prince unlocked the rear door
of the building and turned to Sears and sucker-punched him in
the face. Sears fell to the ground and nearly lost
consciousness. Prince continued to assault Sears while he was
on the ground, kicking him in the buttocks and stepping on
his legs. Smith then slapped Sears twice in the face, and
then asked if he was alright. Sears cried out for help from
Roberts, and he then attempted to shield himself from further
blows by hiding his face in his hands.
the assault finally ended, Sears was sent to the showers to
wash off the chemical spray. As a result of the beating, he
was left with a black-eye, blurred vision, blisters and
burning sensations on his face, a busted lip, knots on his
head and right knee, swelling in his wrists, ankles, and
face, pain in his ribcage and abdomen, skinned knees, a
broken dental plate, and many scrapes and bruises. Later that
same day, he reported that he was having a
"psychological emergency" and threatened to commit
suicide. He was placed in an isolation cell for a week.
the altercation, Prince and Dees filed prison disciplinary
reports against Sears. Dees charged Sears with disobeying an
order by refusing to submit to being handcuffed, and Prince
charged him with battery or attempted battery of a
correctional officer. Prince stated in his disciplinary
report that Sears had refused to comply with repeated orders
to submit to being handcuffed and that when Sears
"snatched away" from his grip, Prince had
"administered an approximate one second burst of
chemical agent to Sears' facial area." Prince also
reported that once he did that, Sears "charged towards
[him] and began striking [him] in the head and shoulder area
with his fists" before the other officers subdued Sears
and got him handcuffed and shackled.
himself in the disciplinary hearings, Sears was found guilty
by both disciplinary panels. He received 30 days of
disciplinary confinement for disobeying orders and 60 days of
confinement for the attempted battery. He was also docked 60
days of gain time, though this had no practical effect
because of ...