The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Henderson v. Glanz on Monday, December 28, 2015.
Aleshia Henderson was an inmate at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was in a holding cell of the medical unit in handcuffs and leg restraints awaiting medical treatment when Detention Officer (DO) Johnson unlocked the door in view of Inmate Jessie Earl Johnson, a violent offender who was considered extremely high risk for escape and required “extreme caution.” DO Thomas, unaware that the holding cell door was unlocked, left the medical unit to respond to a medical emergency. When a nurse returned with another emergency patient, DO Johnson left the medical unit to assist the nurses.
During this time, Inmate Johnson reported to Inmate Williams that he was going to make sexual contact with Henderson. He left his unlocked holding cell and entered Inmate Henderson’s unlocked holding cell, exiting about 10 minutes later. Both DO Johnson and DO Thomas observed Inmate Johnson leaving Henderson’s cell. DO Johnson immediately confronted Inmate Johnson, who denied being in Henderson’s cell. DO Johnson then interviewed Inmate Henderson, who would not speak but nodded when asked if Inmate Johnson had sexually assaulted her. She was taken to a hospital, where an examination showed bruising, swelling, and a midline vaginal tear consistent with forcible sexual conduct. Inmate Johnson was subsequently charged with rape, though the charge was dismissed when Henderson briefly recanted out of fear for her mother’s safety.
DO Johnson and Thomas told their immediate supervisor, Sergeant Pirtle, about the incident, and the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) conducted an investigation. TCSO determined that department policy was violated when the DOs left their posts, failing to maintain the required two officers in the medical unit, and when they failed to maintain the log book. When asked later how she could have been unaware of the risk to Henderson, DO Johnson stated, “I don’t know how to answer that.”
Henderson brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against DO Johnson, DO Thomas, and Tulsa County Sheriff Glanz, asserting violations of her Eighth Amendment rights. Defendants moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity because Henderson could not show a constitutional violation. The district court denied summary judgment as to DO Johnson and DO Thomas, concluding there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether DO Johnson and DO Thomas were aware of the risk of assault. The district court denied summary judgment to Sheriff Glanz because there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether he was aware of the risk of assault to Henderson. Defendants appealed.
On appeal, the Tenth Circuit first determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider DO Johnson’s and Sheriff Glanz’s appeals. The Tenth Circuit noted that the district court’s denial of summary judgment was not ripe for interlocutory appeal because it was not a final order and did not fall into any of the exceptions allowing interlocutory appeal. The Tenth Circuit also noted that the district court found facts sufficient to support its denial of summary judgment, concluding that by viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Henderson, a reasonable jury could find a constitutional violation.
As to DO Thomas, the Tenth Circuit found it had jurisdiction to assess the district court’s denial of summary judgment. Because DO Thomas did not know DO Johnson had unlocked Henderson’s cell door and was not there when DO Johnson left the unit, he was not subjectively aware of a substantial risk of bodily harm to Henderson. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to DO Thomas.
The Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeals of DO Johnson and Sheriff Glanz for lack of jurisdiction, and reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment to DO Thomas.