Iko v. Shreve

Decision Date06 August 2008
Docket NumberNo. 07-7569.,07-7569.
Citation535 F.3d 225
PartiesBenny IKO, Personal representative of the Estate of Ifeanyi A. Iko; Loreen Jones, as parent and next friend of her minor son, BI; Christine Iko, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. James SHREVE, Lieutenant; Brian Clise, Correctional Officer; Lyn Detrick, Correction Officer; Jason Harbaugh, Correctional Officer; Mark Raley, Correctional Officer; Adam Whitacre, Correction Officer; Russell Suder, Correctional Sergeant; Paul F. Deffibaugh, Correctional Officer, Defendants-Appellants, and Jon P. Galley, Warden; Correctional Officers; John Does I Through VI, Western Correctional Institution; Michael Jacobs, Correction Lieutenant; Allan Hall, Correctional Sergeant; Robert Tichnell; Russell Zang, Correctional Lieutenant, Western Correctional Institution; LOUISE GORDON, Chief of Security, Western Correctional Institution, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Stephanie Judith Lane-Weber, Office Of The Attorney General of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellants. Paul Lawrence Knight, O'Connor & Hannan, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellants. Gary C. Adler, Roetzel & Andress, LPA, Washington, D.C., for Appellees.

Before MICHAEL and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges, and HENRY F. FLOYD, United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina, sitting by designation.

Dismissed in part and affirmed in part by published opinion. Judge DUNCAN wrote the opinion, in which Judge MICHAEL and Judge FLOYD joined.


DUNCAN, Circuit Judge:

Ifeanyi Iko ("Iko"), an inmate in a Maryland state correctional facility, died after being forcibly removed from his cell and transferred to another cell by a team of seven correctional officers ("Appellants," or the "officers"). Iko's estate and family ("Plaintiffs") filed this survival and wrongful death action against the officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The officers moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court granted the motion in part, finding the officers entitled to qualified immunity from suit for certain of their actions but not for others.

The officers filed this interlocutory appeal, asserting that they are entitled to qualified immunity from the entire action. Plaintiffs have moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that this court has no jurisdiction to consider it because it improperly calls for revisiting whether there remains a genuine dispute of material fact. We find that the officers' appeal, though attempting to re-litigate certain factual disagreements, also presents legal questions regarding whether the officers are entitled to qualified immunity as to certain claims when the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. We therefore dismiss the appeal in part, and affirm the district court's denial of qualified immunity in part, because Plaintiffs have alleged facts sufficient to show that the officers violated certain of Iko's clearly established Eighth Amendment rights.


"[C]ourts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion. In qualified immunity cases, this usually means adopting . . . the plaintiff's version of the facts." Scott v. Harris, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1774-75, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (internal quotations, alterations, and citations omitted). At the same time, "[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Id. at 1776. In particular, where, as here, the record contains an unchallenged videotape capturing the events in question, we must only credit the plaintiff's version of the facts to the extent it is not contradicted by the videotape. See id.1

Iko was a long-time inmate at Western Correctional Institution ("WCI"), a large state prison in Cumberland, Maryland. Iko had been involved in a number of violent prison incidents dating to 1992, including assaults on correctional officers and other inmates. Some of these incidents involved spitting or biting. Iko had also exhibited intermittent mental-health problems, with "periods of well-adjusted socially appropriate behavior" punctuated by violent outbursts and other "reclusive[,] uncooperative behavior." J.A. 219.

The events leading to Iko's death began on April 28, 2004, when Iko was involved in a violent altercation with his cellmate. Correctional officers broke up the fight by administering pepper spray to the inmates.2 Iko was taken for medical attention and moved to an isolation cell.

Appellant Lieutenant James Shreve ("Lt.Shreve"), the manager of Iko's housing unit, attempted to initiate conversation with Iko several times after the fight, but had difficulty communicating with him. Iko responded to Lt. Shreve's entreaties by "just kind of star[ing] at [him]" or by "sp[eaking] to [him] in a language that [Lt. Shreve] didn't understand." J.A. 211. Because Lt. Shreve generally found Iko to be "a very intelligent person to talk to [who] can speak English," he became concerned about this behavior and requested that someone from the prison's psychology department visit Iko. Id.

Over the next two days, three different members of the prison mental-health staff visited Iko in his temporary cell. Though Iko was communicative during some of those visits, his erratic behavior continued. On April 30, 2004, prison psychologist Dr. Janet Hendershot ("Dr.Hendershot") recommended that Iko be transferred to a cell in the "Special Observation Housing" ("SOH") unit, where he would receive more frequent observation and medical attention. The transfer was scheduled for later that day.

Just prior to the scheduled transfer, Dr. Hendershot encouraged Iko to "cuff up" by inserting his wrists through a slot in the cell door, so that he would not have to be transferred by force. When Iko did not respond, the chief of security and the prison warden authorized his transfer to an SOH cell by force.

To effectuate the transfer, prison authorities utilized a procedure called a "cell extraction." A team of seven correctional officers (the "extraction team") was assembled, led by Lt. Shreve. Each member of the team was assigned a role. For example, one officer was responsible for restraining the inmate's left leg and one his right. The team members wore protective vests, gas masks, gloves, and hard knee and elbow caps. Standing prison procedures authorized the extraction team to use force if and to the extent necessary to secure compliance. The cell extraction was videotaped pursuant to state policy.3

The general sequence of the events of the transfer is undisputed, and comports with the depiction in the videotape. Immediately prior to the cell extraction, Iko lay passively on the floor of his cell. Lt. Shreve told Iko that he could avoid the use of force if he came to the door to be handcuffed. When Iko did not move, Lt. Shreve deployed a pepper spray "fogger"4 for several seconds through the door slot. Lt. Shreve then shut the slot door. When Iko did not come to the door, Lt. Shreve deployed another short burst of pepper spray. As he was doing so, Iko came to the door with his wrists and hands in front of him and his palms face down, and inserted them through the slot where the pepper spray was being deployed. Several officers then began shouting that Iko should instead turn around and place his hands behind his back and through the slot. When Iko did not do so, Lt. Shreve administered another burst of pepper spray, and Iko again lay down on the floor of his cell. Lt. Shreve and another officer each released a final burst of pepper spray and prepared to enter the cell. Plaintiffs' expert estimates that pepper spray was dispersed into Iko's cell for approximately nine to fourteen seconds in total. It is undisputed that at no point during the spraying did Iko respond violently or in a confrontational manner.

Iko was lying still on the floor when the extraction team entered his cell. They secured Iko's arms in metal handcuffs behind his back and his legs in shackles, and placed a spit mask over his head.5

The extraction team lifted Iko from the floor and, pursuant to standard cell-extraction procedure, walked him to a nearby medical room to be examined by a nurse. The nurse explained to Iko that she was there to offer medical treatment, but he did not respond, instead hanging his head as the officers propped him up. The nurse can be heard on the videotape commenting that Iko did not appear to be reacting to the pepper spray. After about a minute in the medical room, Iko suddenly collapsed forward. The officers caught him and directed him into a nearby wheelchair for transportation to the SOH cell. At no point did the nurse provide any medical treatment to Iko or even come into physical contact with him. Nor did the officers at any point remove Iko's spit mask or decontaminate him or his clothing, which was saturated with pepper spray. The officers then wheeled Iko to the SOH cell via an outdoor path, carrying Iko's legs in front of the wheelchair to keep them from dragging on the ground.

Upon his arrival at the SOH cell, Iko was placed face down on the floor. The officers dispatched someone to locate nylon "flex cuffs" to replace Iko's metal handcuffs. While the officers waited for the flex cuffs to arrive, they continued to restrain Iko by kneeling and otherwise exerting downward pressure on various parts of his body, including his head, neck, shoulders, stomach, waist and legs. The videotape confirms, for example, that at least one officer was kneeling, in hard knee caps, on Iko's back and shoulders throughout this process. After several minutes of constant...

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