152 F.3d 564 (7th Cir. 1998), 97-2569, Armstrong v. Squadrito

Docket Nº:97-2569.
Citation:152 F.3d 564
Party Name:Walter ARMSTRONG, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Joseph SQUADRITO, Allen County sheriff; Henry E. Dill, Allen County jail administrator/ commander; Daniel Reid, Richard Loscomb, and Michael S. Tate, jail confinement officers, Defendants- Appellees.
Case Date:July 24, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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152 F.3d 564 (7th Cir. 1998)

Walter ARMSTRONG, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Joseph SQUADRITO, Allen County sheriff; Henry E. Dill,

Allen County jail administrator/ commander;

Daniel Reid, Richard Loscomb, and

Michael S. Tate, jail





No. 97-2569.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 24, 1998

Argued Jan. 16, 1998.

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Joseph A. Christoff, Christoff & Christoff, Fort Wayne, IN, Dennis H. Geisleman (argued), Myers & Geisleman, Fort Wayne, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

John O. Feighner, George Sistevaris (argued), Haller & Colvin, Fort Wayne, IN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before CUMMINGS, BAUER, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

EVANS, Circuit Judge.

Sixty-two-year-old Walter Armstrong voluntarily turned himself in at the Allen County (Indiana) lockup facility after he learned that a "body attachment warrant" had been issued for his arrest. The warrant was issued because Armstrong failed to appear in court for a hearing regarding child support arrearages. Armstrong thought, with good reason, that he would be in custody for a few hours, but his estimate turned out to be over a thousand hours short of the mark. As it turned out, the sheriff's office misfiled his records and held him for 57 days despite his repeated inquiries. Unsurprisingly, Armstrong brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit against the sheriff, the jail commander, and several guards. In granting summary judgment for the defendants, the district court explained how each person at the sheriff's department avoided responsibility for the egregious harm inflicted on Armstrong. Because we conclude that the defendants' conduct shocks the conscience, we reverse and remand.

This bizarre tale began on August 17, 1994, when the Allen County circuit court issued a "body attachment warrant" for the arrest of Walter Armstrong. Apparently Armstrong had failed to appear for a contempt hearing regarding child support arrearages. See Armstrong v. Armstrong, No. CC-87-1271 (an Allen circuit court continuing post-dissolution proceeding). Armstrong explains that he did not know of this hearing because, as the record indicates, his attorney withdrew from the case in the months beforehand. In any event, the Indiana Code directs that a sheriff executing a writ of attachment for contempt "shall immediately: (1) serve the writ; and (2) take the person into custody" and "immediately ... take the person before the court which issued the writ." Ind. Code § 34-4-9-2.1(c)-(d) (1997) (emphasis added) (amended and recodified at Ind. Code § 34-47 by Ind. Pub.L. 1-1998). The specific warrant in this case read: "TO THE SHERIFF OF ALLEN COUNTY: You are hereby commanded to attach Walter Alfred Armstrong ... and he safely keep, so that you have his body before the Judge of the Allen Circuit Court of Allen County, Indiana, FORTHWITH, to answer a contempt in not obeying the order of this Court as commanded at the 1994 Term of said Court."

On a Friday (August 26), just over a week after the Allen circuit court issued the warrant, officers arrived at Armstrong's home in Fort Wayne to execute the writ. Following the circuit court's policy, the officers proposed that Armstrong voluntarily surrender on Monday (August 29) to avoid a "weekend stay" at the Allen County lockup. Armstrong agreed to the deal and the officers explained the procedure: Following a brief detention at the lockup, sheriff's department personnel would escort Armstrong to court. Failing that, lockup officials would obtain a court date for Armstrong and release him that same day.

August 29 arrived and Armstrong reported to the lockup as promised. Sheriff's department officers at the Allen County Confinement Center properly processed Armstrong and placed him on a "will call" list of detainees

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awaiting transportation to court. The lockup then contacted the sheriff's department warrants division. The warrants division telephoned the Allen circuit court to provide the case number as notice that the sheriff's department had Armstrong in detention. Armstrong then began to wait for the court to call him to appear before a judge--but the call never came.

Unfortunately for Armstrong, someone at the warrants division had transposed his case number before providing it to the court: CC-87-1271 became CC-87- 1217. Apparently the Allen circuit court referred to detainees only by number and not by name. Because of the error, the court had no idea that Armstrong sat in jail awaiting an appearance. After two days, officers moved Armstrong from the lockup to the Allen County jail. Armstrong waited and waited and waited. Fifty-seven days passed.

During the first two days Armstrong apparently sat tight. As an explanation for his silence, Armstrong says that the officers told him that the court would call for him when it was ready. During the first week of his confinement Armstrong began to ask his jailers when they would take him to court. The officers answered that his name appeared on the "will call" list and that the judge would get around to him. With admirable faith in authority, Armstrong accepted this explanation and expected the court to call every day. As Armstrong waited longer and longer, he began to inquire about his predicament with greater insistence. He repeatedly asked every guard who would listen, "When am I going to go to court?" They kept replying, "When the judge calls you." The guards, and inmates, told Armstrong that it was normal procedure for a detainee to wait 60 or 90 days on the will call list--"It was nothing out of the ordinary."

David Nahrwold, a fellow inmate for 30 days, stated that Armstrong made almost daily complaints to jail officers about why he had no court date. Nahrwold described Armstrong's queries as "protests" and explained that confinement officers reprimanded Armstrong for his tone of voice. On one occasion, according to Nahrwold, Armstrong even "went so far as to step across the yellow line when inquiring as to why he was not being released." While the guards rebuked Armstrong for his complaints, they apparently did respond to Armstrong's inquiries by checking the will call list on a computer "downstairs." Each time they checked, they told Armstrong that the computer showed no court date or release date.

On four or five occasions Armstrong filled out a written "Inmate Request Form" and presented it to the guards. Armstrong asked when he would go to court. The officers told Armstrong again and again that there was no sense in turning in the written complaint. They could just go downstairs and check the computer instead of making Armstrong wait for two or three days while jail officials processed the request. Crucially, the guards actually refused to accept the form. So, after repeatedly hearing that the court had not yet set a date, Armstrong just threw away the written forms because, as he said abjectly, "I got the information I wanted."

Early in his confinement Armstrong called his boss, Ron Heathman, to say that it didn't look like he would make it back to work that week. Heathman came down to the jail to pick up warehouse keys from Armstrong. Six times over the course of Armstrong's detention, Heathman provided Armstrong with $10 in spending money. Armstrong explained that Heathman "was the only one around that I could ... call." He had no relatives or friends in town. He did not have the phone number for his domestic relations attorney and the attorney did not accept collect calls. In any event, he didn't try to contact an attorney because he expected to be released every day. Eventually (and remarkably), Heathman, who needed Armstrong back at work, hired an attorney, who quickly gained Armstrong's release.

While the record contains a paucity of information about Armstrong's child support proceedings, it appears that the attorney won Armstrong's release by obtaining, on October 25, 1994, a child support order from the Allen circuit court. This order directed the sheriff to release Armstrong and required Armstrong to pay $57 per week in child support and $8 per week in arrearages. In addition,

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the court set a status hearing on Armstrong's payment of support for December of 1994. After the entry of the order, Armstrong finally left the Allen County jail.

The defendants emphasize that Armstrong never protested his confinement by doing anything other than asking when he was going to court. According to the defendants, Armstrong never said the magic words: "Armstrong merely had to alert the Jail Officers that his incarceration should not have lasted more than a single day and for reasons unknown to him, he had been retained longer than that day." Regarding Armstrong's attempt to file written complaints, the defendants attempt to put a powerful spin on the facts by explaining that "[a]pparently the answers Armstrong received from the confinement officers satisfied him because he never submitted a formal written request to any supervisor or commander." In other words, Armstrong did nothing during his confinement to alert the defendants to his plight. Finally, in their efforts to place the blame on Armstrong, the defendants point to his state of mind. They suggest Armstrong acquiesced in his treatment because, with the knowledge that some inmates waited 60 days or more, he threw away the written request forms. "Armstrong accepted the status quo because he thought it was 'normal procedure' that he be incarcerated for so long a period of time. This presumption on the part of Armstrong frustrated the process of his timely release."

After getting out of jail, Armstrong filed a § 1983 suit naming the Allen County sheriff (Joseph...

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