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United States v. Walker

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama

December 28, 2017




         Defendant Jeremy Walker pled guilty to one count of deprivation of civil rights in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. At his sentencing, the court granted both his and the government's motions for a downward variance, but did not accept either party's proposed sentence. Instead, Walker was sentenced to four weekends imprisonment and six months home-confinement. This opinion explains why.

         1. BACKGROUND

         In 2012, Walker tried to commit suicide. The 21-year-old had lost his job, gotten into an argument with his girlfriend, and, because a conflict with his mother and brother forced him to move out, was without a place to stay or any money to cover his own apartment. Feeling abandoned and like a failure, he broke a bottle of beer and tried to use the broken glass to cut himself, later saying he just wanted to “get the pain out.” Hospital Records (doc. no. 22-5) at 3.

         This cry for help, while a low point, was not entirely unpredictable. Walker has a history of low self-esteem, depression, and anger-management issues. Growing up, Walker experienced severe financial insecurity, frequent moves with frequent school changes, and harassment and ridicule at school. Both Walker's mother and his brother suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and Walker had no relationship with his father, who was absent except for a few phone calls in his pre-teens, which ended when his father lost interest. A psychological assessment by Dr. Catherine Boyer reported that “since adolescence [Walker has had] occasional incidents resulting from a loss of control over his anger.” Boyer Report (doc. no. 22-1) at 5. Indeed, Walker was expelled from the eleventh grade after getting into a fight.

         Walker's self-esteem, which Dr. Boyer observed as “likely to be fragile and may drop dramatically in response to criticism by other people” seemed to spiral following his expulsion, as he found it difficult to maintain steady employment. Walker's mother reported that job uncertainty contributed to his poor mental health, as he often became depressed when unemployed. Id. at 2. His mother also reported that he has issues with mood, anger, occasional bouts of breaking things, and feeling like he is a failure.

         Walker's inability to manage his emotions has led to two arrests: once after losing his temper with family and shoving the police officer who arrived at the scene, and once for getting into an altercation with a waitress after a friend either failed to pay entirely or failed to tip. Neither incident led to a conviction.

         Dr. Boyer concluded that Walker was suffering from depression at the time of the evaluation. Id. at 5. She also noted that feelings of low self-worth and depression underlie his anger management issues, and that, “Even though anger control issues occur relatively infrequently, [he] may be more vulnerable to loss of temper under high stress situations compared to someone who has never had any anger related incidents.” Id.[*]

         In 2014, just two years after his suicide attempt, Walker applied to be a correctional officer with the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). The application process consisted of filling out an application and passing a written examination and an agility test. While the application included a release of all medical information, it did not inquire as to the applicant's mental health or medical history. Walker submitted his application, passed the evaluations, and reported for work at Elmore Correctional Facility shortly thereafter.

         Walker did not receive any training prior to beginning work in May 2014. According to testimony by Leon Bolling, the former Warden of Elmore, it was regular practice at the time to place “cadets”--people who have completed the application process but with no training or experience--in a facility for a number of months prior to sending them to academy. According to the Standard Operating Procedure for the Elmore facility, cadets are also supposed to receive “pre-academy training” during this time, which is to be “documented as it takes place so it can be sent to the academy at the completion of their pre-academy training.” Elmore Standard Operating Procedure: Training (doc. no. 22-12) at 2.

         During this onsite, pre-academy period of their employment, cadets' main role is to shadow senior certified correctional officers to get a feel for the job. While they are not to have direct supervision or control over prisoners, cadets are exposed to prisoners and can conduct pat-down searches. It is not until a cadet attends the academy--an 11-week training course upon completion of which cadets become certified correctional officers--that he or she learns techniques in de-escalation, how to manage prisoners, and self-defense. The academy is also where correctional officers are taught about the legal limits on use of force, the Eighth Amendment and civil rights.

         Walker did not receive any of this training; there is no documentation of any “pre-academy” training and he did not attend academy.

         As of July 3, 2014, cadet Walker had been working on site at the Elmore facility for slightly over a month. Most days had consisted of following around a disinterested senior officer, being told to “toughen up” by other corrections officers, and, occasionally, finding himself alone and without supervision.

         While some of the details of that day are disputed, what is clear is that Walker assaulted a prisoner. It started in the cafeteria. Walker's brother was also a correctional officer at Elmore, and, despite concerns raised by a senior officer, the two brothers worked the same shift. In the cafeteria, a prisoner, C.C., told Walker that he was “nothing without his brother.” Use of Force Written Statement (doc. no. 51-5). Shortly after, and for reasons unknown to the court, Walker was directed to retrieve C.C., who had made his way to the yard. Walker was not shadowing an officer nor did he have any supervision. When he was unable to coax C.C. inside, a physical altercation ensued. Following the incident in the yard, C.C. was separated from Walker and placed in a holding cell.

         A video of what came next shows Walker thrusting past several corrections officers into the holding cell, swinging furiously and landing punches on the back, shoulders and head of handcuffed C.C. Walker then hurls C.C. into the holding-cell wall. Within seconds, a number of correctional officers make their way into cell and separate Walker ...

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