Walker v. State

Decision Date29 April 2003
Docket NumberNo. 01-528.,01-528.
Citation68 P.3d 872,316 Mont. 103,2003 MT 134
PartiesMark Edward WALKER, Petitioner and Appellant, v. STATE of Montana, Respondent and Respondent.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Helena, MT; Sunday Z. Rossberg, Rossberg Law Office, Great Falls, MT, for Appellant.

Mike McGrath, Montana Attorney General, Diana Leibinger Koch, Special Assistant Montana Attorney General, Helena, MT; Brant S. Light, Cascade County Attorney, Michael Rausch, Deputy Cascade County Attorney, Great Falls, MT, for Respondent.

Justice JAMES C. NELSON delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Mark Edward Walker appeals an order of the District Court for the Eighth Judicial District, Cascade County, denying Walker's Petition for Postconviction Relief. Walker had alleged in his petition that he was the victim of cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of Montana State Prison (MSP) officials. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

¶ 2 We address the following issues on appeal:

¶ 3 1. Whether Walker's appeal is moot because he has been released from custody.

¶ 4 2. Whether Walker sought relief in an appropriate proceeding within his Petition for Postconviction Relief.

¶ 5 3. Whether "Behavior Management Plans" constitute cruel and unusual punishment when such plans exacerbate an inmate's mental health condition.

Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 6 On December 13, 1994, Walker was charged in Cascade County with felony forgery, arson, and two counts of criminal mischief. Walker admitted forging his brother's signature on several checks. The other two charges stemmed from a fire started on a tarp covering a motorcycle in his parents' garage. Walker claimed that the fire was an accident.

¶ 7 At the time, Walker had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) for which he was taking Ritalin. Walker pleaded guilty to negligent arson and felony forgery on July 25, 1995, in exchange for dismissal of the criminal mischief charges. On December 18, 1995, the District Court sentenced Walker to five years with the Department of Corrections with all five years suspended. Walker subsequently violated the terms of his probation and the State filed a petition to revoke his suspended sentence.

¶ 8 While awaiting revocation proceedings, Walker absconded. He was arrested in Colorado on December 29, 1997, on a charge of giving false information to a pawn broker. Walker remained incarcerated in Colorado until November 6, 1998, when he was extradited to Montana.

¶ 9 While incarcerated in Colorado, Walker underwent a mental health evaluation and was diagnosed with Hebephrenic Schizophrenic Disorder. That diagnosis was later changed to Bipolar Disorder. Between April 19, 1998, and November 6, 1998, the psychiatric staff of the Colorado Department of Corrections prescribed various medications to treat Walker's mental disorder. They eventually settled on a regimen which included Lithium. Walker was taking 300 milligrams of Lithium three times a day for a total of 900 milligrams each day. For the seven months Walker was taking Lithium while incarcerated in Colorado, the staff reported that his mood was more predictable and he did not receive any major disciplinary write-ups.

¶ 10 On November 6, 1998, Walker was transported from Colorado to the Cascade County Detention Center. On December 8, 1998, after a hearing, the District Court revoked Walker's suspended sentence and resentenced him to five years with the Department of Corrections. Walker was transferred to MSP on February 5, 1999.

¶ 11 Walker is six feet two inches tall. Because he is hypoglycemic, Walker has difficulty keeping on weight. At the time of the hearing on his petition for postconviction relief, Walker weighed 140 pounds. While incarcerated, his weight fluctuated from a high of 155 pounds while in Colorado, to a low of 129 pounds while locked down in maximum security (Max) at MSP. In addition, Walker is legally blind. The vision in his left eye measures 1/100, while the vision in his right eye measures 20/80. Walker does not have peripheral vision. Besides his regular corrective lenses, Walker uses a "funnel scopic lens" on top of his glasses which acts like binoculars.

¶ 12 Walker also suffers from a nystagmus problem which makes both of his eyes twitch constantly and forces him to turn his head to the side when speaking to other people. Also, Walker's mode of speech is "pressured," meaning that his speech and thought processes are so rapid that it is difficult to keep up with him. A prison psychologist described Walker's thoughts as coming out like "a fire hose rather than a garden hose" and that it was difficult to slow or stop the stream of thought, "like trying to cap a fire hydrant while it's flowing."

¶ 13 While at the Cascade County Detention Facility, Walker was taking his Lithium only sporadically. On February 5, 1999, Walker's first day at MSP, the intake officer described him as quiet, timid and cooperative. In his intake form, Walker notified MSP that he had been diagnosed as Bipolar and that he was receiving Lithium for his condition. On February 10, 1999, Walker notified MSP staff psychiatrist, Dr. David Schaefer, that he was experiencing stomach pains due to the Lithium. He requested that a snack be provided to accompany his medication and alleviate the nausea associated with taking his Lithium. Walker also requested that Dr. Schaefer review his medical records. Shortly after these requests, Walker stopped taking his Lithium. Thereafter, Walker's behavior showed a progressive decline.

¶ 14 For the first six months after his arrival at MSP, Walker averaged only two severe disciplinary infractions a month. Then, in August 1999, Walker was moved to Max after he broke a sprinkler head and claimed that he had swallowed it. For the next six months, Walker averaged eleven severe disciplinary infractions a month. According to various correctional officers, Walker had transformed from a timid and quiet inmate into an excited, belligerent, hostile, disruptive and suicidal inmate.

¶ 15 The officer who initially processed Walker on his arrival at MSP, later observed that Walker was refusing to eat and was losing a lot of weight. Although that officer said he tried to convince Walker to eat, Walker refused claiming that the slot that his food was passed through was filthy. Another officer testified that Walker would holler for hours, sometimes for the entire length of the officer's eight-hour shift. Still another officer reported that Walker was one of the most disruptive inmates that he had seen in five years of working in Max. That officer notified the mental health staff three or four times about Walker, but he did not see any follow up. Other inmates reported that Walker would scream all night long and one inmate reported that Walker would pound continuously on his sink. An inmate housed near Walker described Walker's moods as ranging from depressed and moody to "happy as shit."

¶ 16 Other instances of Walker's disruptive behavior consisted of spitting on officers; covering his cell walls with ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise; throwing his food tray out his food slot and onto the floor; covering his cell window to prevent officers from seeing in; and purposely flooding his cell. Walker also refused to comply with direct orders from the officers. On two occasions, officers had to use pepper spray on Walker and forcibly remove him from his cell.

¶ 17 Walker's behavior culminated in three suicide attempts. On October 7, 1999, Walker was evaluated by medical staff for swallowing a staple. The psychiatrist noted in his report following that incident that Walker was a chronic risk for self-harm. On October 8, 1999, Walker tried to hang himself with a sheet. And, on October 12, 1999, he tried to hang himself with his prison overalls.

¶ 18 Both the guards and the inmates quickly tired of Walker's behavior. Hence, Walker was put on a series of Behavior Management Plans (BMPs). In its response brief on appeal, the State agreed with the characterization in Walker's brief concerning the BMPs on which the prison placed Walker. These BMPs were characterized by Walker as follows:

¶ 19 BMPs are prison management tools using "a carrot-and-stick approach" of withdrawing and returning privileges based on conduct. BMPs are supposed to be "a tool of last resort" when all other options for discipline have been exhausted. To prevent abuse, BMPs cannot be initiated by a single guard, and are supposed to have other fail-safe measures in place, such as review by mental health staff.

¶ 20 BMPs are only implemented and completed in the A-block area of Max. A-block is a detention unit designed for disciplinary punishment. The inmates in A-block are only provided with the bare necessities. Each cell has a cement bed, a cement table or desk, a stainless steel sink, a stainless steel toilet and a stainless steel plate that serves as a mirror. None of these fixtures are removable. The cell has an intake vent and an exhaust vent to circulate air. The cell does not have a window to the outside, so no natural light enters the cell. There is a single light fixture in the ceiling and the guards control the lighting. The light remains on 12 to 16 hours a day. No recreation yard time is allowed for inmates in Ablock.

¶ 21 BMPs further curtail the already restricted detention created in A-block and are designed to last 24 to 48 hours. BMPs are not meant to be therapeutic, they are used as a tool to manage dangerous behavior. If a BMP continues beyond a week, prison mental health services are supposed to conduct a formal review of the plan.

¶ 22 Walker was transferred to A-block on August 25, 1999. While on A-block, MSP officials implemented five separate BMPS for Walker even though they conceded that Walker did not respond well to progressive discipline....

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