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Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Illinois Prisoner's Lawsuit Related to Shooting

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a lower court erred in dismissing an Illinois prisoner's excessive force, deliberate indifference and retaliation claims.

On May 16, 2009, an unidentified Stateville Correctional Center guard fired two rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun to break up a fight between two unarmed prisoners.

Raul C. Gomez, his cellmate and another prisoner were not involved in the altercation but were hit with shotgun pellets.

Gomez was struck in the right upper arm, causing bruising and bleeding. Shortly after the incident, a medical technician (MT) examined the wound and asked to treat Gomez in the infirmary. The prison was on lockdown, however, and guards refused to move Gomez so he could receive medical treatment.

The MT said she would bring Gomez some medical supplies, but never returned. Eight hours later, Gomez saw the MT again and asked about the medical supplies. She said she wanted to help him but security staff did not want to document any prisoner medical treatment for gunshot wounds. When Gomez asked for her name, she laughed and walked away, according to an emergency grievance that he filed.

Gomez washed the wound himself and removed a small piece of metal from his arm. He wrapped the wound with a torn piece of bed sheet.

Four days later, Gomez was finally given a tetanus shot and his wound was photographed, cleaned and bandaged. His arm was X-rayed two days later.

An internal affairs (IA) investigator tried to intimidate Gomez into dropping his grievance. He searched Gomez's cell and took the shirt he was wearing when he was shot. The investigator claimed the hole in the shirt was not caused by a shotgun pellet. Gomez refused to submit to a polygraph unless the MT and guard also were polygraphed.

The IA investigator threatened to transfer Gomez to Menard Correctional Center, where he had known enemies. One day before the transfer, Gomez told a different IA investigator that he would not pursue his grievance or file a lawsuit if he could stay at Stateville. The investigator said it was "too late," and Gomez was sent to Menard. Prison officials denied Gomez's grievance in July 2009.

On March 15, 2011, Gomez filed suit in federal court alleging excessive force, deliberate indifference and retaliation claims. The district court appointed William A. Barnett, Jr. to represent Gomez.

But on August 8, 2011, "Barnett filed a motion to withdraw as Gomez's attorney ... Barnett stated that he had withdrawn from the active practice of law and would withdraw from the trial bar of the district court once relieved of his appointment as Gomez's attorney."

Barnett went even further, though, informing the court that "Plaintiff's claims are not warranted under existing law and cannot be supported by good faith argument for extension, modification or reversal of existing law." He claimed "the statute of limitations ran on May 16, 2011," and the MT and the guard who fired the shotgun could not be identified.

The district court allowed Barnett to withdraw and dismissed Gomez's complaint based upon Barnett's representations. Gomez appealed.

The Seventh Circuit reversed, first finding that the district court had prematurely dismissed Gomez's excessive force claim because it "failed to recognize that 'the limitations period is tolled while a prisoner completes the administrative grievance process,'" citing Walker v. Sheahan, 526 F.3d 973, 978 (7th Cir. 2008), and because it could be inferred from Gomez's factual allegations "that the unidentified officer acted maliciously in using deadly force against inmates who were not involved in the ongoing altercation."

The appellate court also held "that, at this early stage in the proceedings, Gomez's complaint asserts sufficient factual allegations to state" a deliberate indifference claim. Although the district court did not address Gomez's retaliation claim, the Seventh Circuit found that his complaint stated a cognizable claim in that regard, too.

The case was therefore remanded to the district court for further proceedings, where it remains pending. See: Gomez v. Randle, 680 F.3d 859 (7th Cir. 2012).

Related legal case

Gomez v. Randle


 

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