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Vaughn v. Marques

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 15, 2019

Melvin Vaughn, Petitioner,
Warden R. Marques, Respondent.


          Hildy Bowbeer United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Melvin Vaughn's Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, “Petition” [Doc. No. 1], accompanied by a Memorandum of Law in Support of Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, “Memorandum” [Doc. No. 2]. Respondent Warden R. Marques has responded to the Petition, and Vaughn elected not to file a reply. See (Gov't's Resp. to Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, “Resp.” [Doc. No. 5]; Decl. of Dr. Emily Becker, “Becker Decl.” [Doc. No. 6]); cf. (May 22, 2018 Order [Doc. No. 4 at 2] (permitting but not requiring reply).) For the reasons provided below, the Court recommends denying the Petition and dismissing this action with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In June 2011, Vaughn entered into a plea agreement under which he agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to distribute at least 280 grams of material containing cocaine base. See Plea Agreement at 1, United States v. Vaughn, No. 11-CR-3009 (D. Neb. June 28, 2011). In September 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska sentenced Vaughn to 180 months in prison, followed by 5 years of supervised release. See J. in a Criminal Case at 2-3, United States v. Vaughn, No. 11-CR-3009 (D. Neb. Sept. 23, 2011). Relying on certain retroactive amendments to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, the sentencing court later reduced Vaughn's prison term to 130 months. See Order Regarding Mot. for Sentence Reduction Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) at 1, United States v. Vaughn, No. 11-CR-3009 (D. Neb. Apr. 15, 2016).

         In April 2016, Vaughn was an inmate at the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota (“FPC-Yankton”) participating in FPC-Yankton's Residential Drug Abuse Program (“RDAP”). See (Mem. at 1; Resp. at 1.) Developed by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) due to a Congressional requirement that the BOP “provide residential substance abuse treatment” to inmates, RDAP is a three-phase program that offers successful participants the chance to reduce their time in custody by up to a year. See (Resp. at 2-3); cf. 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(1) (establishing treatment-provision requirement); id. § 3621(e)(2)(B) (establishing possible sentence reduction); 28 C.F.R. § 550.53 (discussing RDAP phases). By early April 2016, Vaughn had completed RDAP's first phase, “a unit-based residential component . . . comprised of a course of individual and group activities provided by drug abuse specialists in a treatment unit set apart from the general prison population.” (Resp. at 3, 6; Mem. at 1.)

         On April 30, 2016, FPC-Yankton staff issued Vaughn an incident report based on conduct observed in the visiting room (the area where inmates meet with outside visitors). (Resp. at 5; see also Becker Decl. Ex. C. [Doc. No. 6-3 at 3-4] (incident report).[1]) The report asserted that Vaughn had acted inappropriately with a female visitor:

At approximately 12:45pm, . . . [an FPC-Yankton staff member] saw [Vaughn] reach his hand inside the front of his visitor's . . . pants. . . . Vaughn's visitor attempted to conceal Vaughn's hand by moving her coat over his hand. [The staff member] immediately approached . . . Vaughn and his visitor. . . . Vaughn attempted to quickly remove his hand from the front of his visitor's pants. [The staff member] instructed . . . Vaughn to exit the visiting room immediately. [The staff member] explained to Vaughn what [he had] witnessed and [Vaughn] admitted he had his hands inside of her pants.

(Id. at 3.). Vaughn admitted to another officer that during this interaction, he had put a finger into his visitor's vagina. See (id. at 8 (memorandum from J. Tadlock to J. Pribyl).)

         The incident report initially listed Vaughn's violation as “engaging in a sexual act, ” corresponding to a “prohibited act code” of 205. (Id. at 3); see also 28 C.F.R. § 541.3(b) (containing table of prohibited acts and associated codes). BOP regulations detail four categories of prohibited acts-the most serious are “100-level” acts, and the least serious are “400-level” acts. See 28 C.F.R. § 541.3. A code-205 violation thus falls within the second-most-serious category of prohibited acts. See id.

         Authorities investigated the incident report soon after the alleged incident. Compare (Becker Decl. Ex. C. at 3 (stating that incident occurred at 12:45 PM), with Id. at 4 (stating that investigation began at 1:45 PM).) The investigator reported asking Vaughn if he had placed “his hand down the pants of his visitor”; Vaughn confirmed that he had. (Id. at 4.) In the report's “Investigator's Comments and Conclusions” section, the investigator stated that “there is enough supporting evidence to continue to processing [sic] this report through the inmate disciplinary process, ” and that “[t]he reporting officials [sic] report is accurately written and the charge of prohibited act code 205 is warranted.” (Id.)

         As the Court understands the applicable regulations, cf. (Resp. at 4-5 (providing some description)), after an incident-report investigation, a Unit Disciplinary Committee (“UDC”) reviews the report; inmates may appear at this review. See 28 C.F.R. § 541.7(a), (d). A UDC has the discretion to refer an incident report to a Discipline Hearing Officer (“DHO”) to conduct a hearing on the report. See Id. §§ 541.7(g), 541.8. Inmates are also generally permitted to attend these DHO-led hearings. See Id. § 541.8(e).

         It is not entirely clear from the report what happened during the disciplinary proceedings concerning Vaughn's incident report. The report's section on “Committee Action” contains various materials that are crossed out, and at least two different people appear to have made entries on the form on two different dates. See (Becker Decl. Ex. C. at 3-4).) Based on the relevant C.F.R. provisions and materials provided by Respondent, however, it appears that (1) the UDC review occurred on May 2, 2016; (2) Vaughn admitted the relevant conduct at that review; (3) the UDC referred the incident report to a DHO; (4) the DHO-led hearing took place on May 4, 2016; and (5) Vaughn accepted responsibility for the relevant conduct at the DHO hearing.

         The Court may be wrong about these particulars, [2] but on two key points there appears to be no dispute. First, Vaughn admitted to the relevant conduct at least twice during the hearing process (in addition to his admission during the earlier investigative process). Second, at some point during the disciplinary process, [3] someone decided to reclassify the act code of Vaughn's violation; instead of the 200-level act of “engaging in a sexual act, ” he was charged with the 400-level act of “conduct with a visitor in violation of BOP regulations.”

         On May 5, 2016, Vaughn was expelled from FPC-Yankton's RDAP program. See, e.g., (Resp. at 6.) The expulsion was explicitly due to the visiting-room incident. See (id.; see also Mem. at 2.) Under 28 C.F.R. § 550.53(g)(1), an inmate “may be removed from [RDAP] . . . because of disruptive behavior related to the program or unsatisfactory progress in treatment.” Cf. (Becker Decl. ¶ 6 (making the same point).) And while “[o]rdinarily, inmates must be given at least one formal warning before removal from RDAP, ” the relevant regulations state that “[a] formal warning is not necessary when the documented lack of compliance with program standards is of such magnitude that an inmate's continued presence would create an immediate and ongoing problem for staff and other inmates.” 28 C.F.R. § 550.53(g)(2); cf. (Becker Decl. ¶ 6 (making the same point).) Vaughn took various actions to appeal his expulsion, but none led to the expulsion's reversal. See (Mem. at 2.)

         The Clerk of Court received and filed the present Petition in May 2018. See (Pet. at 1.) Vaughn asks the Court to “restore [his] status as ‘RDAP Complete' and [his] eligibility for a sentence reduction under [18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)].” (Id. at 9.[4]) He asserts two grounds for relief. Ground One states that Vaughn's “Constitutional Rights to Equal Protection under the Law were violated when he was expelled from the BOP's [RDAP] for receiving a 400 level disciplinary infraction and other ‘similarly situated' inmates guilty of higher level infractions were treated favorably.” (Id. at 7.) Ground Two states that “BOP Officials had discriminatory purpose and discriminatory intent when they expelled Petitioner from RDAP for a 400 level infraction but did not expel ‘similarly situated' inmates who were not African American.” (Id. at 8.) The Court construes these two grounds as essentially making the same argument: that the BOP's decision to expel Vaughn from RDAP violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection.

         II. ...

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