United States District Court, D. Minnesota
JaneAnne Murray, MURRAY LAW LLC, for petitioner.
M. Secord, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, for
Patrick J. Schiltz United States District Judge
Pinson is a federal prisoner who lost 109 days of good-time
credit after a hearing officer found that she was responsible
for striking a guard and engaging in acts of self-mutilation.
Pinson filed this habeas action under 28 U.S.C. § 2241
challenging her loss of good-time credit on the basis of
various alleged due-process violations. The Court previously
found that Pinson was not entitled to relief on most of her
claims. But there was one claim-a claim that the hearing
officer was biased-that the Court could not decide based on
the record before it. The Court thus granted Pinson’s
request for an evidentiary hearing on that claim.
on the evidence presented at that hearing, the Court now
finds that Pinson’s hearing officer was not biased and
thus that Pinson was not denied due process. The Court
therefore denies Pinson’s § 2241 petition.
back-to-back days in October 2016, Pinson was involved in two
different incidents that eventually led to two different
prison-disciplinary hearings. First, on October 2, Pinson
engaged in acts of self-mutilation and struck a prison guard
in the head with handcuffs. See ECF No. 1-1 at 2-5. Based on
her conduct, the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”)
charged Pinson with possession of a weapon, serious assault,
and self-mutilation. Id. at 2; ECF No. 12-3 at 8,
12. Second, on the morning of October 3, after Pinson was
taken to a local hospital for treatment of her
self-mutilation injuries, she allegedly kicked and broke the
bottom portion of a hospital bed, and she allegedly spat at
and attempted to bite a prison official. The BOP charged
Pinson with damaging property and minor assault. See Joint
Ex. 26 at 00164-65; ECF No. 12-3 at 11-12.
of concerns about Pinson’s mental health,
BOP had Pinson evaluated before deciding whether to commence
formal disciplinary proceedings against her. Specifically,
the BOP had Pinson evaluated to determine (1) whether Pinson
was competent to participate in the disciplinary proceedings
and (2) whether Pinson could be found responsible for her
conduct (i.e., whether, at the time of the incidents, she
would have been able “to appreciate the nature and
quality, or wrongfulness of the act[s], ” ECF No. 12-2
at 5). ECF No. 12 at ¶ 17.
was evaluated by Dr. Randy Brandt, the Chief of Psychology at
the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in
Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Brandt conducted two evaluations
of Pinson and issued two reports-one relating to the prison
incident on October 2 and the other relating to the hospital
incident on October 3. The two reports indicate that Dr.
Brandt took into account Pinson’s mental-health history
(including her alleged schizoaffective disorder) and all of
the circumstances of the two incidents (including
Pinson’s alleged use of K2 and PCP on October 2). See
ECF No. 13- 2 at 10-12; ECF No. 14 at 3-5. Dr. Brandt
concluded that Pinson was competent and responsible.
on Dr. Brandt’s reports, the BOP decided to go forward
with disciplinary proceedings against Pinson. Hearing officer
Kevin Nikes was assigned to preside over both hearings.
Pinson’s first hearing was held on January 17, 2017,
and it related to the October 3 hospital incident. See Joint
Ex. 26 at 00164-65. Nikes was provided with Dr.
Brandt’s psychological evaluation finding Pinson
competent and responsible (ECF No. 14 at 3-5), as well as
with statements from various prison officials who claimed to
witness Pinson bite and spit at a prison staffer at the
hospital (Joint Ex. 26 at 00131-46). Pinson also submitted
her own evidence. Specifically, Pinson submitted a
“clinical encounter” form that had been completed
by her psychiatrist, Dr. Shawn Rice. In that form, Dr. Rice
indicated that, at Pinson’s request, he had prescribed
medication “for agitation” in December 2016.
Joint Ex. 26 at 00116-17. Pinson also submitted a personal
statement in which she denied that she spat at or bit any
member of the prison staff at the hospital, and in which she
noted that “[t]he psychological assessment [i.e., Dr.
Brandt’s report, which found Pinson responsible for her
conduct] is in conflict with the psychiatric assessment
[i.e., Dr. Rice’s “clinical encounter” form
indicating that he had prescribed Pinson medication
“for agitation”] which diagnoses me as
schizoaffective.” Id. at 00115, 00164. At the
conclusion of the hearing, Nikes decided to expunge
Pinson’s October 3 incident report because of
“conflicting evidence.” Id. at 00165. In
other words, Pinson prevailed.
two weeks later, on January 31, 2017, Nikes held the second
disciplinary hearing-this one related to the October 2 prison
incident. See ECF No. 1-1 at 2-5. Once again, Nikes was
provided with a psychological evaluation from Dr. Brandt
finding Pinson competent and responsible, as well as with
statements from various prison officials who witnessed the
incident. Id. And once again, Pinson provided Nikes
with her own evidence. Specifically, Pinson again submitted
the December 2016 “clinical encounter” form from
Dr. Rice, and Pinson also submitted a summary of her past
mental-health diagnoses and prescribed medications.
Id. at 3; see also Joint Ex. 13 at 00008-09, 00011,
00013, and 00015. In addition, Pinson submitted a personal
statement about the incident, in which Pinson admitted to
engaging in self-mutilation and striking a prison official in
the head while flailing her arms. See ECF No. 1-1 at 2. But
Pinson alleged that she was high on K2 and PCP at the time of
the incident, and she noted that “Dr. Brandt disagrees
with the psychiatrist[’s] [Dr. Rice’s] diagnosis
[and] that is why he finds me responsible.”
conclusion of the hearing, Nikes found that Pinson had
committed the charged acts and was responsible for her
behavior. Id. at 2, 5. Two of the charged acts were
100-level violations-the most severe level of BOP violations.
ECF No. 12-3 at 8. Nikes sanctioned Pinson by taking away 109
days of her good-time credit. ECF No. 1-1 at 5. Moreover, the
two 100-level violations will have a significant (adverse)
impact on Pinson’s eligibility for lower-security
housing. See ECF No. 69 at 115.
exhausting her administrative remedies, Pinson filed this
action under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 challenging her loss of
good-time credit. See ECF No. 1. Pinson’s § 2241
petition contained a long list of alleged due-process
violations. ECF No. 1-1 at 8, 10-12. The Court dismissed most
of Pinson’s allegations as vague, conclusory, or
contradicted by the record. See ECF No. 33 at 6-10. There was
one allegation, however, that the Court could not decide
based on the record before it: Pinson’s allegation that
Nikes was a biased decision maker.
Pinson alleged in an affidavit that at her January 31, 2017
disciplinary hearing, Nikes told her that, although he
personally believed that she was “clearly mentally ill,
” he “[couldn’t] hold [her] not responsible
on this one” because of pressure that he was receiving
from “people above [his] pay grade.” ECF No. 1-1
at p. 11, ¶ 15. Pinson also alleged that Nikes told her
that, although he would accept any documentary evidence that
she submitted, he would not consider that evidence in making
his decision, as he had no choice but to find her
responsible. Id. Finally, Pinson alleged that Nikes
refused her request to call her psychiatrist (Dr. Rice) to
testify, but instead merely accepted (but did not consider)
documentary evidence regarding Dr. Rice’s treatment of
her. Id. In a responsive affidavit, Nikes denied
making the comments attributed to him by Pinson, denied being
pressured by anybody to hold Pinson responsible for the
October 2 incident, and swore that he was “completely
impartial and open-minded” at the January 31, 2017
hearing. See ECF No. 12 at ¶¶ 29-37.
Court found that if Pinson’s allegations were true,
then Pinson was deprived of her constitutional right to an
impartial decision maker. ECF No. 33 at 9. But the Court
found that it could not resolve the direct conflict between
Pinson’s and Nikes’s affidavits without an
evidentiary hearing. Id. at 9-10. The Court thus
ordered that an evidentiary hearing be held on the issue of
Nikes’s impartiality and appointed counsel to represent
Pinson. The evidentiary hearing took place on April 17, 2019.
Both Pinson and Nikes testified,  and, approximately two
months later, both parties submitted post- hearing briefing.
For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that Pinson did
not carry her burden of establishing that Nikes was a biased
hearing officers are entitled to “a presumption of
honesty and integrity.” See Withrow v. Larkin,
421 U.S. 35, 46-47 (1975). As the petitioner in this habeas
proceeding, Pinson must overcome that presumption and prove,
by a preponderance of the evidence, that Nikes was biased.
See, e.g., Walker v. ...