United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case lends support to the saying that there are two sides to
every story. It could also prove the adage that a picture is
worth a thousand words, if only the video camera had captured
on film the alleged mistreatment inmate Derrick Choate
received at the hands of jailer Phil Arms. Unfortunately it
did not, prompting Magistrate Judge Joe B. Brown to recommend
denial of Arms' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No.
conducted the de novo review required by Rule 72(b)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court agrees
with Magistrate Judge Brown's Report and Recommendation
("R & R") (Doc. No. 89). Accordingly, the Court
will deny the Motion for Summary Judgment and overrule
Arms' objections to the R & R, which are presented in
the form of a Motion for De Novo Determination (Doc.
January 14, 2016, Choate was a pretrial detainee in the
Putnam County Jail. Arms, a lieutenant with the Putnam County
Sheriffs Department who worked at the jail, claims that
Choate- convicted felon jailed on charges of felony evading
arrest, and an avowed member of the Aryan
Nations-"escaped from his maximum-security cell"
and "refused to return." (Doc. No. 92 at 2). As j
ailers were escorting Choate to a holding cell, he turned
" 180°" to face Lt. Arms and told him that he
would have Lt. Arms' wife and mother "f**ked with a
n**ger d*ck, " or words to that effect. (Id. at
3). Because Choate turned around and made verbal threats, Lt.
Arms believed that Choate "posed a significant
disciplinary threat." Acting on the threat, Lt. Arms
grabbed Choate and "put him against the wall."
(Id.). Lt. Arms concedes that Choate "bump[ed]
his head, " but claims this resulted in an
"inconsequential small knot." (Id.).
Arms' Motion for Summary Judgment is supported by his own
affidavit (Doc. No. 24-1) and the affidavits from several
correctional officers (Doc. Nos. 24-3, 24-4, 24-5) who were
on scene. These affidavits generally state that, after Choate
turned and threatened Lt. Arms, Choate was "put" or
"taken" to the wall by Lt. Arms, which resulted in
a superficial knot on Choate's forehead. They also
uniformly opine that the force Lt. Arms used was not
addition, Lt. Arms relies upon the affidavit of Deborah A.
Deck, L.P.N. In her affidavit, Nurse Deck states:
Based upon my assessment of Mr. Choate, it was my opinion
that he had a small lump on his head that resolved without
any significant problems. When I initially saw him the first
two times, he had no marks on his neck and did not complain
about any marks on his neck until the second time I saw him.
At that time, there were no marks seen on his neck. The third
time I saw him there were marks. It would be very unusual for
marks to appear three (3) hours after I initially observed
him if they had been placed on him before 9:30 a.m. when he
was initially seen.
(Doc. No. 52-1 at 2-3).
part, Choate alleges that, on the day in question, he did not
know he was on lockdown. He also claims not to remember
whether he or his cellmate opened the cell door, but asserts
that the locks on the cells had been broken for years, and
inmates entered and exited their cells at will, even if they
were not supposed to. Choate claims that, as he was being
escorted out of the housing unit, he turned the upper half of
his body "about 60 to 90 degrees" while still
walking forward, and told Lt. Arms to "go f**k your
mother in the ass with a n**ger d*ck." (Doc. No. 60 at
2). This statement, he claims, was not a threat to either Lt.
Arms or his family, but Lt. Arms "became enraged about
the comment." (Id. at 3). Lt. Arms then
allegedly "grabbed" Choate "around the neck
with both hands, " threatened to kill him, and
"choked" Choate "for a period of time to an
almost unconscious state." (Id.). After that,
Lt. Arms allegedly "slammed [Choate's] head into the
wall.. . while [Choate] was handcuffed . . . and not
resisting in anyway." (Id.). The net result of
Lt. Arms excessive use of force, according to Choate, was
that he "received an extremely large knot to the right
front part of [his] forehead, " and had
"strangulation and claw marks to [his] neck."
(Id. at 3).
support his version of events, Choate submitted his own
affidavit (Doc. No. 71), along with affidavits from Derrick
Flores (Doc. No. 61), Shawn Vincent (Doc. No. 62), James
Whittenburg (Doc. No. 71), and Christopher Mayberry (Doc. No.
74), all fellow inmates at the Putnam County Jail.
Collectively, those affidavits suggest the following: (1) a
handful of inmates were sitting around a table in the day
room playing cards when they were approached by several
guards; (2) at the guards' instructions, Choate stood up
and was handcuffed; (3) while being led away, Choate said
something pejorative about Lt. Arms' mother or wife
pertaining to a "n**ger d*ck, " but this was in
response to guards inviting Choate to fight, Lt. Arms'
statements to the effect that Choate was a "punk, "
and that he ate guys like Choate for breakfast; and (4) Lt.
Arms choked Choate and slammed his head into the wall (some
say on more than one occasion). At least two of the affiants
also claim to have seen a large knot on Choate's forehead
after the altercation with Lt. Arms.
"escape" from the "maximum security cell"
and some of the subsequent events were captured on video.
Although the video lasts 7 minutes and 39 seconds, it appears
(based upon the counter at the bottom of the screen) to
encompass the period from 8:38 a.m. to 9:01 a.m. on June 24,
2016. Approximately one minute into the video, a
hand and arm can be seen protruding through the pie hole in
the door of a cell that sits towards the back of the pod.
Approximately fifty seconds later, as inmates are casually
walking down the stairs towards a table at the back of the
pod and directly in front of Choate's cell, Choate and
his cellmate are seen exiting their cell. They then walk over
to the same table and sit down. For the next five minutes
based on the video, or twenty minutes based on the counter,
Choate appears to be chatting with five to six individuals
that are sitting at, or standing near, the table. Two jailers
then approach and position themselves on opposite sides of
the table. They are j oined by another j ailer.
minutes into the tape, or twenty-one minutes according to the
counter, five jailers are positioned around the table. After
what appears to be a brief discussion, Choate stands up and
is handcuffed from behind. Accompanied by jailers, Choate
then walks to the left side of the common area, along the
cellblock doors. At one point Choate turns to face Lt. Arms.
Lt. Arms then appears to push Choate and the two, along with
a jailer who was following them, disappear behind a staircase
and are offscreen for the next 19 seconds. Seven minutes and
fifteen seconds into the tape, or at 9:51 a.m. according to
the counter, Choate and his jailer escorts reappear on screen
for a few seconds and then disappear once again.