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Letterman v. Doe

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 16, 2015

Jimmy Lee Letterman; Annette Fay Letterman, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
Jon Does, individually, and in their official capacities; Steven Lammers; Noreen Gastineau, Defendants Jerry Farnsworth; Bryan Earls; Marcia Jennings, Defendants - Appellants

Submitted January 13, 2015

Page 857

Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - St. Joseph.

For Jimmy Lee Letterman, Annette Fay Letterman, Plaintiffs - Appellees: Aristotle N. Rodopoulos, Noah Wood, Wood Law Firm, LLC, Kansas City, MO.

For Jerry Farnsworth, Bryan Earls, Marcia Jennings, Defendants - Appellants: H. Anthony Relys, Philip Sholtz, Attorney General's Office, Saint Louis, MO.

Before LOKEN, MURPHY, and MELLOY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 858

MELLOY, Circuit Judge.

Three days after leaving a Missouri jail, Danial Letterman passed away from injuries he suffered in his cell. His parents sued a number of prison employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming, among other things, that prison employees were deliberately indifferent to Danial's medical needs. Three defendants moved for summary judgment on the deliberate indifference claims, asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied summary judgment as to all three defendants. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

I

Because this is an appeal from a denial of qualified immunity, the court must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the Lettermans as the nonmoving

Page 859

party. See Jones v. McNeese, 746 F.3d 887, 894 (8th Cir. 2014).

Danial Letterman received a 120-day " shock" sentence after police found him possessing marijuana. He was transferred to the Missouri Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correction Center in November 2011. Within a week of transfer, Danial was experiencing mental health problems, and psychologists recommended he be placed on suicide watch. Prison staff placed Danial in the transitional care unit (TCU), the prison's " hospital" ward.

On November 17, Danial became manic. He beat his hand on the wall of his concrete cell, repeatedly kicked the door, and, according to some rumors, beat his head against the wall. The same day, Lieutenant Bryan Earls, complying with a request from mental health personnel, put together a five-person extraction team to move Danial from his concrete cell to a padded cell. The padded cell was reserved for only the most seriously mentally affected prisoners, generally those who would try to injure themselves or others. Due to the circumstances surrounding Danial's move, prison policy required multiple officers be present before opening the padded cell.

After the team moved Danial, he remained in a manic state. Danial was placed on suicide watch. Prison employees knew he was under the highest level of observation, requiring in-person checks four times an hour according to prison policy. During these checks, employees were supposed to receive an affirmative response from Danial. Employees were also required to log their observations. If a prisoner did not respond, a different prison policy required the employee to notify " central command."

Correctional officer Steven Lammers[1] began his shift at 11:00 p.m. on November 17. His supervisor briefed him that a five-person extraction team had placed Danial in the padded cell. Lammers was responsible for the in-person checks during his shift. Rather than complying with prison policy, however, Lammers merely viewed Danial through a monitor. Lammers initially saw Danial stumbling around the cell and mumbling to himself.

Around 11:26 p.m. on November 17, Danial fell backwards in the padded cell and hit his head against a wall. Danial slid down the wall and remained in a sitting position for a while. About twenty minutes later, he fell backward again and hit his head on the door jamb. Lammers heard a loud thud and went to check on Danial in person. Danial told Lammers that he injured his head and needed medical attention. Lammers spoke with a nurse, but neither he nor ...


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