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Thompson v. Afamasaga

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

June 26, 2018

THAD J. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
J. AFAMASAGA, STATE OF HAWAII, Defendants.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          J. MICHAEL SEABRIGHT CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The court conducted a non-jury trial in this case on May 29-30, 2018. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), the following constitute the court's Findings of Fact (“Findings”) and Conclusions of Law (“Conclusions”). To the extent any Findings as stated may also be deemed to be Conclusions, they shall also be considered Conclusions. Similarly, to the extent any Conclusions as stated may be deemed to be Findings, they shall also be considered Findings. See In re Bubble Up Del., Inc., 684 F.2d 1259, 1262 (9th Cir. 1982).

         II. OVERVIEW/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This is a prisoner civil rights action in which Plaintiff Thad J. Thompson (“Plaintiff”), who was a pretrial inmate at Oahu Community Correctional Center (“OCCC”), alleges that Defendant Adult Correction Officer (“ACO”) J. Afamasaga (“Defendant” or “Afamasaga”)[1] used excessive force against Plaintiff in violation of the United States Constitution.[2] During a strip-search, Defendant discovered an item concealed between Plaintiff's buttocks. A physical altercation followed, during which Plaintiff was injured. On May 29, a two-day bench trial commenced on Plaintiff's claim against Afamasaga. On June 6, 2018, Defendant filed a post-trial brief. ECF No. 137.[3]

         The evidence presented at trial included live testimony from four witnesses[4] and seventeen exhibits submitted jointly by the parties, ECF No. 137, and admitted without objection. The court has heard and weighed all the evidence and testimony presented at trial, observed the demeanor of witnesses and evaluated their credibility and candor, and heard and considered Plaintiff's and Defendant's arguments. For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that Plaintiff failed to show by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the force Defendant purposely or knowingly used against Plaintiff was objectively unreasonable. That is, the court finds that Plaintiff failed to prove that Defendant used constitutionally excessive force against Plaintiff.

         III. FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. On September 2, 2014, Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee. That morning, he was reassigned within OCCC from Annex 2 to the Special Holding Unit (“SHU”).

         2. Defendant and Patelesio were working at the SHU when Plaintiff arrived. An important part of an ACO's job is to maintain security in the facility. Defendant testified that part of his training as an ACO included identification of security hazards, techniques to deal with altercations such as the “takedown” of an inmate, and the use of minimal force to maintain control and obtain compliance from inmates who are aggressive and/or refuse to follow orders.

         3. Each time an inmate enters the SHU, he is strip-searched to ensure that no weapons, drugs, or other contraband are brought into the SHU. During trial, the parties stipulated that it was appropriate for Plaintiff to be strip-searched upon his arrival at the SHU.

         4. When Plaintiff arrived at the SHU, Patelesio was working in the sergeant's office, which is adjacent to the SHU entry area. Defendant met Plaintiff in the SHU entry area and proceeded to conduct the strip-search.

         5. Defendant warned Plaintiff that any sudden movement may be viewed as an act of aggression that will result in a forced “takedown.” 6. When Plaintiff arrived at the SHU, he had a rolled-up plastic bag containing a tea bag and packet of sugar partially concealed between his buttocks.

         7. The credible evidence shows that Plaintiff did not fully comply with Defendant's orders during the strip search. For example, rather than hand his clothes to Defendant as directed, Plaintiff tossed or kicked them aside. Plaintiff did not spread his cheeks as ordered, and instead of fully squatting and coughing, Plaintiff performed a half “squat and cough.” After Defendant glimpsed something in Plaintiff's buttocks, he ordered him to squat and cough again. Plaintiff responded by asking Defendant what he was talking about and why he had to squat again before then doing another half squat. Defendant saw the plastic bag between Plaintiff's buttocks, but did not know what the plastic bag contained.

         8. In a loud, excited voice, Defendant asked Plaintiff what he had and ordered Plaintiff to hand over the plastic bag.

         9. Plaintiff failed to hand over the item. Instead, Plaintiff pushed Defendant against the wall and grabbed the item with his other hand.

         10. Defendant testified that from his training and observations working at OCCC, he knew that inmates often make weapons from ordinary items such as toothbrushes, razors, and rocks from the recreational area. Defendant further testified that because Plaintiff was hiding the item and refused to hand it over, he thought it might be a weapon. Defendant testified that he acted in accordance with his training and attempted a “one-arm ...


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