Williams v. Superintendent
OPINION AND ORDER: The Court DENIES the petition 1 . The clerk shall enter judgment accordingly. Signed by Judge Robert L Miller, Jr on 10/16/2017. (Copy mailed to pro se party)(lhc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
CAUSE NO. 3:16-CV-61-RLM
OPINION AND ORDER
Roosevelt Williams, representing himself, filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. §
2254 challenging his prison disciplinary hearing in MCF 15-10-295 in which a
disciplinary hearing officer found him guilty of possession of a controlled
substance in violation of Indiana Department of Correction policy B-202. He was
sanctioned with the loss of 90 days earned credit time and was demoted from
Credit Class 2 to Credit Class 3. According to Mr. Williams, there are five grounds
which entitle him to habeas corpus relief.
In Ground One, Mr. Williams argues that he is entitled to habeas corpus
relief because he wasn’t provided with a valid chain of custody report. He wasn’t
entitled to a chain of custody report. “Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part
of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such
proceedings does not apply.” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). Due
process doesn’t require a complete chain of custody in prison disciplinary cases.
“Absent some affirmative indication that a mistake may have been made, [the]
hypothetical possibility of tampering does not render evidence inadmissible, but
goes instead to the weight of the evidence.” Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 653
(7th Cir. 2000). There is no affirmative indication that a mistake was made with
respect to the evidence against Mr. Williams. To the extent that Mr. Williams
claims that he was entitled to a chain of custody report pursuant to Department
of Correction policy, the Department of Correction’s failure to follow its own policy
doesn’t rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S.
62, 68 (1991) (“state-law violations provide no basis for federal habeas relief”);
Keller v. Donahue, 271 F. App’x 531, 532 (7th Cir. 2008) (inmate’s claim that
prison failed to follow internal policies had “no bearing on his right to due
process”). Thus, Ground One is not a basis for granting habeas corpus relief.
In Ground Two, Mr. Williams argues that he is entitled to habeas corpus
relief because he was denied the right to present evidence in his defense. He
argues that his request for pictures of the three confiscated bottles was improperly
denied. He seems to misunderstand what happened. His request for this evidence
wasn’t denied - the hearing officer reviewed photographs of the confiscated bottles.
To the extent Mr. Williams argues that he wasn’t allowed to review the
photographs personally, such a denial would amount to harmless error. See Piggie
v. Cotton, 342 F.3d 660, 666 (7th Cir. 2003) (prisoner must establish that the
denial of the evidence resulted in actual prejudice, rather than harmless error).
Mr. Williams admits that he had the bottles and was aware of the contents. ECF
1-1 at 4-5 (Mr. Williams asserts that “the green leafy substance was nothing but
seasoning that he takes to the chow hall to use on his food. Petitioner puts small
quantities in bags so he would not have to carry the bottles in his hands...”).
Ground Two doesn’t identify a basis for granting habeas relief.
Mr. Williams argues in Ground Three that he is entitled to relief because he
wasn’t provided with a detailed description of the hearing officer’s findings of fact.
While Mr. Williams had a right to a “written statement by the factfinder as to the
evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action,” Wolff v. McDonnell,
418 U.S. at 563, Mr. Williams received such a written statement in the Report of
Disciplinary Hearing. Mr. Williams might have wanted a more detailed explanation
of why the hearing officer decided against him, the explanation he was given
satisfied his due process right. Ground Three doesn’t serve as a basis for habeas
In Ground Four, Mr. Williams argues that he is entitled to relief because he
was denied his right to an impartial decision-maker. “[P]risoners are entitled to be
free from arbitrary actions of prison officials.” McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d
787 (7th Cir. 1999) (quotation marks omitted). But in the prison disciplinary
context, adjudicators are “entitled to a presumption of honesty and integrity,” and
“the constitutional standard for improper bias is high.” Piggie v. Cotton, 342 F.3d
at 666. Mr. Williams first argues that the other alleged deficiencies he identifies
in his petition serve as evidence that the hearing officer wasn’t impartial. This
claim is more akin to a claim that the evidence was insufficient to find him guilty,
which is addressed in the next section. Mr. Williams also argues that the hearing
officer wasn’t impartial because on the day his hearing was scheduled to take
place, he went to the hearing officer’s office, but his disciplinary paperwork was
missing. Later that day, the hearing officer conducted two searches of his cell and
accused Mr. Williams of having stolen the paperwork. According to Mr. Williams,
another prisoner was later determined to be responsible for mishandling the
paperwork. The next day, the hearing officer conducted Mr. Williams’ disciplinary
hearing. Mr. Williams claims that the hearing officer’s accusations rendered the
hearing officer biased against him. Due process prohibits a prison official who was
personally and substantially involved in the underlying incident from acting as a
decision-maker in the case. Piggie v. Cotton, 342 F.3d at 666. Mr. Williams’s
hearing officer wasn’t involved in the underlying incident, but rather the
preparation for the hearing itself. Mr. Williams’s allegation that the hearing officer
suspected him of stealing disciplinary paperwork is not alone enough to satisfy the
high level of evidence required to establish bias. Thus, Ground Four does not
serve as a basis for granting habeas relief.
Mr. Williams argues in Ground Five that he is entitled to habeas corpus
relief because the hearing officer didn’t have sufficient evidence to find him guilty.
In the disciplinary context, “the relevant question is whether there is any evidence
in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary
board.” Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-456 (1985). “In reviewing a
decision for some evidence, courts are not required to conduct an examination of
the entire record, independently assess witness credibility, or weigh the evidence,
but only determine whether the prison disciplinary board’s decision to revoke good
time credits has some factual basis.” McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d at 786.
[T]he findings of a prison disciplinary board [need only] have the
support of some evidence in the record. This is a lenient standard,
requiring no more than a modicum of evidence. Even meager proof
will suffice, so long as the record is not so devoid of evidence that the
findings of the disciplinary board were without support or otherwise
arbitrary. Although some evidence is not much, it still must point to
the accused’s guilt. It is not our province to assess the comparative
weight of the evidence underlying the disciplinary board’s decision.
Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d at 652 (quotation marks, citations, parenthesis, and
The Conduct Report charged Mr. Williams as follows:
On 10/15/15 at approximately 1145 AM I, Sgt. D. Uhle was
conducting a search of cell E227/228 with my K9 partner. During the
search of cell E227/228 my K9 partner indicated on offender Ice,
Donte #956949 E228 property box. At which time I started a search
of the property box and noticed a bbq bottle that looked altered. I
noticed the bottom of the bbq bottle could be twisted off. I unscrewed
the bottom of the bbq bottle and found a white powdery substance
wrapped in cellophane. I then continued the search of the cell and
noticed another altered bbq bottle sitting on offender Williams,
Roosevelt #974618 E227 cubicle shelf. I unscrewed the bottom of the
bbq bottle and found 3 small bags containing a green leafy
substance. The search of the cell was continued and Lt. F. Rush
found a thumb drive in a cut out of a cooler belonging to offender
Williams. After the completion of the cell search I asked offender Ice
and offender Williams who the items belonged to. Officer Ice and
offender Williams both stated “we just bought those bbq bottles for
the bbq”. Neither offender Ice nor offender Williams would admit to
the contraband. The items were confiscated and both offender Ice and
offender Williams were identified by their state ID.
The Department of Correction defines offense B-202 as “[p]ossession or use
of any unauthorized substance controlled pursuant to the laws of the State of
Indiana or the United States Code or possession of drug paraphernalia.” Adult
101_APPENDIX_I-OFFENSES_6-1-2015(1).pdf. The Department of Correction’s
definition of ‘possession’ includes any contraband on the prisoner’s person,
without reference to ownership: “offenders are presumed to be responsible for any
property, prohibited property or contraband that is located on their person, within
their cell or within areas of their housing, work, educational or vocational
assignment that are under their control.” Disciplinary Code for Adult Offenders.
h t t p : / / w w w . i n . g o v / i d o c / f i l e s / 0 2 - 0 4
The hearing officer had sufficient evidence to find Mr. Williams guilty. A
conduct report alone can be enough evidence to support a finding of guilt.
McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d at 786. The evidence demonstrated that three
barbeque bottles had been altered to conceal items within a false bottom.
Concealed within these bottles were small bags of a leafy green substance and a
white powdery substance. It was the hearing officer’s exclusive province to weigh
the respective credibility of the evidence. See Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d at 653.
It was neither unreasonable nor arbitrary for the hearing officer to reject Mr.
Williams’ assertion that the leafy green substance was an innocuous seasoning
for food, where the substance had been intentionally concealed within the false
bottom of a barbeque sauce bottle. The hearing officer had sufficient evidence to
find Mr. Williams guilty, so Ground Five does not serve as a basis for granting
For the reasons set forth above, the court DENIES the petition (ECF 1). The
clerk shall enter judgment accordingly.
ENTERED: October 16 , 2017
/s/ Robert L. Miller, Jr.
United States District Court
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