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Snow v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 22, 2016

GREGORY A. SNOW
v.
TURNEY CENTER DISCIPLINARY BOARD, ET AL.

          Assigned on Briefs October 4, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hickman County No. 15-CV-5638 Joseph Woodruff, Judge

         An inmate was relocated from one cell to another in 2012 as part of a large-scale inmate reassignment, and two knives were found in the door to the inmate's cell in 2015. The inmate was charged with the possession of a deadly weapon and was found guilty by the disciplinary board following a hearing. The inmate claimed he did not know anything about the knives and that he did not believe the cell was searched prior to his reassignment, as the prison policies require. The inmate exhausted his administrative appeals before filing a petition for writ of certiorari. In an effort to prove his cell was not searched prior to his reassignment and that the evidence did not support his conviction, the inmate sought permission to discover documents from the State, which the trial court denied. The trial court granted the writ of certiorari but denied the inmate any relief. The inmate raises several issues on appeal. We affirm the trial court's judgment in all respects.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed.

          Gregory A. Snow, Only, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Madeline Bertasi Brough, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellees, Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al.

          Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., and J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., joined.

          OPINION

          ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE

         I. factual and Procedural Background

         Gregory A. Snow is an inmate at Turney Center Industrial Complex ("TCIX"), a division of the Tennessee Department of Correction ("TDOC"). On August 4, 2015, Corporal Robert Story and Officer Clint Zyla performed a search of Cell 2A-230 and found two homemade knives inside the door to the cell. Mr. Snow was one of the occupants of Cell 2A-230 at that time and was charged with the disciplinary infraction of possession of a deadly weapon. Mr. Snow was transferred to segregation pending a disciplinary hearing. Mr. Snow pleaded "not guilty" to the charge and was appointed an inmate advisor to represent him at the hearing, which took place eight days after the knives were discovered. The Disciplinary Report Hearing Summary contains the following statement by Mr. Snow:

I've been locked up since 06 and never had a disciplinary. I had no knowledge of those knives. They haven't searched in a long time and I've never seen them check the door.

         The disciplinary board was provided with the physical evidence and a Disciplinary Report that described the two knives as "5" and 9" homemade knives" and identified their status as "good condition." The report also contained the following description of the search:

On 08/04/15 at 12:15 pm a search of 2A 230 was performed by Corporal Robert Story and Officer Clint Zyla. Two homemade knives were removed from inside the door. One icepick style 5" long and one flat metal sharpened to a point 9" long. Inmates Gregory Snow #410694 and [his cellmate] are assigned to this cell, and are being charged with possession of a deadly weapon and moved to Unit Five pending hearing. Captain William Bishop approved this disciplinary report.

         The disciplinary board found Mr. Snow "guilty based on report & evidence presented of 2 knives found in the door of inmate Snow's cell." Mr. Snow was found guilty of a Class A disciplinary offense, possession of a deadly weapon, and sentenced to a fine of five dollars, twelve-month package restriction, three months' loss of good time credit, and ten days of segregation.

         Mr. Snow appealed to the warden and to the commissioner of the TDOC. In his appeal to the warden, Mr. Snow argued that the knives were placed in the door to his cell before he was moved there and that the only reason the door to his cell was searched was the receipt of confidential information. The warden affirmed the conviction and wrote: "Inmate moved to the cell on 5-30-2012 where he remained until 8-4-2015. Shanks appeared relatively new." In his appeal to the commissioner, Mr. Snow asserted a violation of a TCIX policy requiring vacant cells to be searched and inspected before being occupied by new inmates and further requiring unit staff to "enter all vacant cells on TOMIS conversation LIBQ, Cell Search Request."[1] The commissioner affirmed Mr. Snow's conviction, stating that Mr. Snow had failed to support his allegations that the warden had reached an incorrect decision when reviewing his original appeal.

         After exhausting his administrative appeals, Mr. Snow filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari in the Chancery Court for Hickman County. In his petition, Mr. Snow asserted that there was a lockdown at TCIX on May 30, 2012, and all prisoners were reassigned to housing units. Mr. Snow explained that he was not given a choice about the cell reassignment and that he was relocated to a cell that had formerly been occupied by a gang member. Mr. Snow also asserted that one of the knives found in the door to his cell was made out of stainless steel bar, which came from old dust mops that were removed from TCIX immediately following the 2012 cell reassignment. Mr. Snow wrote, "Ironically enough, [these mops] were removed because so many knives were being made out of them."

         In his petition, Mr. Snow alleged that the vacant cells were not searched during the 2012 lockdown and inmate reassignment, and he cited the following TDOC and TCIX policies:

TDOC Policy 506.06, Section VI, I, 3, (b): There shall be a complete search and inspection of each vacant room/cell before it is occupied by a new inmate. The Warden/Designee shall enter all vacant cells on TOMIS conversation LIBQ, Cell Search Request.
TDOC Policy 506.06, Section VI, I, 3, (c): The Warden/Designee shall identify the number of occupied cells/rooms that are to be searched. The cell search request shall be entered on TOMIS conversation LIBQ. The employee designated to conduct the search shall enter the Cell Search Results on TOMIS conversation LIBR within 48 hours of completing the search.
TCIX Local Policy 506.06-1, Section VI, J, 7: . . .Vacant cells shall be searched and inspected before [they are] occupied by a new inmate. Unit staff shall enter all vacant cells on TOMIS conversation LIBQ, Cell Search Request. Searching staff shall enter the Cell Search Results on TOMIS/LIBR.[2]

         According to Mr. Snow, the disciplinary board acted arbitrarily and illegally in convicting him of the charged offense in light of the fact that the TCIX personnel failed to follow the TDOC and TCIX mandatory procedures of searching vacant cells before relocating inmates. Mr. Snow further alleged in his petition that he was denied due process of law because (1) the disciplinary board failed to make findings of fact to support its decision to find him guilty of the charged offense; and (2) an informant told TCIX officials about the location of the knives and the TCIX officers failed to write an independent assessment of the confidential informant's reliability as required by the TDOC Uniform Disciplinary Procedures Policy 502.01(VI)(L)(4)(g). Mr. Snow requested the court to provide the following relief: issue the writ of certiorari; order the State to file the certified record of the proceedings; and vacate his conviction for possession of a deadly weapon, order the restoration of all sentence reduction credits, and order the return of all monetary fees and other privileges taken away as a result of the disciplinary conviction.

         The State did not oppose the court's granting of the writ. The court entered an order granting Mr. Snow's petition for the writ, and it directed the State to certify the administrative record and provide it to the court. Mr. Snow then requested, pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 34, that the State produce documents and that he be permitted to amend his complaint based on the information gleaned from the documents produced. The documents Mr. Snow sought included the following:

1) All records, computerized or otherwise, and preferably in print out format, documenting all cell changes conducted on 29, 30, and 31 May 2012 at the Turney Center Industrial Complex;
2) All records, computerized or otherwise, and preferably in print out format, documenting searches conducted on any or all cells in Units 1, 2, 3, or 4 on 29, 30 or 31 May 2012;
3) A copy of the minutes from the TCIX Inmate Council Meeting for the month of August 2015;
4) The TOMIS records listing the names and TDOC numbers of all inmates who have been assigned to cell 2A-230 from ...

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