7th Cir. Revives Claims Over Prison Shooting

     CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit revived the First and Eighth Amendment claims of an Illinois inmate who was accidentally shot while corrections officers attempted to break up a fight between two other prisoners.
     In 2009, Raul Gomez was incarcerated in Statesville Correctional Center. On the morning of May 16th, he was allegedly standing at the front of his cell when a fight broke out between two unarmed inmates a few cells down.
     Officers successfully broke up the fight, but not before an unknown corrections officer fired two shots with a 12-gauge shotgun into the inmate population below. Gomez, his cellmate, and another inmate were allegedly hit by pellets from the shots.
     Gomez showed a prison guard his shoulder, which was bruised and bleeding from the shotgun pellet. The guard returned five minutes later with an unknown medical technician. Though the technician wanted to treat Gomez in the health care unit, corrections officers allegedly denied the request because the prison was on lock down.
     The medical technician promised to return with supplies and treat Gomez in his cell, but never did. He was allegedly denied medical supplies again later the same day.
     When Gomez saw the same technician later that evening, she allegedly said that “she wanted to help him but she was told by staff security not to document any medical treatment for gunshot wounds for any of the inmates. Gomez requested her name but she merely laughed and walked away mumbling,” 7th Circuit Judge Michael Kanne summarized.
     Gomez washed his own wound, removed the metal from his arm, and wrapped the arm in a torn piece of his bed sheet. He also wrote an emergency grievance to the warden.
     Four days later, during which time he experienced significant pain, Gomez was treated in the health care unit, where the doctor allegedly expressed concern that Gomez had not been brought to the unit on the day of the injury. Gomez recovered without further incident.
     According to Gomez’s complaint, several weeks later a prison internal affairs investigator came to intimidate him into dropping the grievance. The investigator searched Gomez’s cell and took the t-shirt he was wearing at the time of the shooting, telling Gomez that there was no proof that the hole in the shirt was caused by a shotgun pellet. He also allegedly threatened to put Gomez into segregation or have him transferred to Menard Correctional Center, where he had known enemies.
     Gomez’s was transferred to Menard. His grievance was officially denied on July 13, almost two months after being filed. Because Gomez was transferred again, he never received a copy of the denial letter.
     Gomez then filed suit, alleging excessive force, deliberate indifference, and retaliation in violation of the First and Eighth Amendments. He sought compensatory and punitive damages, and legal costs. He was appointed an attorney and allowed to proceed in forma pauperis.
     But Gomez’s attorney, William Barnett Jr. soon moved to withdraw, saying that the case lacked merit. Barnett was preparing to retire from the practice of law; Gomez’s case was the last assignment that remained.
     U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur, adopting Barnett’s recommendations, dismissed the case. But the 7th Circuit reversed in part, finding that all three of Gomez’s claims deserved a trial.
     The statute of limitations on Gomez’s claims, which expired on May 16, 2011 according to Shadur’s ruling, should have been extended until at least the date when the prison reached a decision on Gomez’s grievance. The court thus rejected Shadur’s ruling that the claims were time barred.
     Addressing the excessive force claim, Kanne wrote, “there are enough factual allegations to infer that the unidentified officer acted maliciously in using deadly force against inmates who were not involved in the ongoing altercation.”
     Secondly, prison officials who denied Gomez medical treatment for four days following the alleged shooting could be found to have acted with deliberate indifference, the court ruled, because “he experienced prolonged, unnecessary pain as a result of a readily treatable condition.”
     And finally, Gomez’s transfer to Menard should be evaluated for evidence of retaliation, the court ruled.
     “No other explanation for Gomez’s transfer is available at this early stage in the proceedings. Thus, we conclude from Gomez’s complaint that his grievance was a motivating factor in the defendants’ decision to transfer him to Menard,” Kanne wrote.
     The court did dismiss one correctional officer as a defendant from the case, ruling that he was not involved in any of the allegations that Gomez successfully raised.
     The case will be returned to the Northern District of Illinois for further proceedings.

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