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Ian-Jameel Norvell Black v. Shawnee County Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 2, 2018




         Order Plaintiff Ian-Jameel Norwell Black is hereby required to show good cause, in writing, to the Honorable Sam A. Crow, United States District Judge, why this action should not be dismissed due to the deficiencies in Plaintiff's Complaint that are discussed herein.

         I. Nature of the Matter before the Court

         Plaintiff brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the El Dorado Correctional Facility-Central, in El Dorado, Kansas, the events giving rise to his Complaint took place during his detention at the Shawnee County Adult Detention Center in Topeka, Kansas.

         Plaintiff alleges that the Shawnee County Department of Corrections opened Plaintiff's outgoing legal and non-legal mail between March 30, 2015, and November 1, 2017. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant copied his outgoing mail, put the letters back in the envelope, resealed the envelope and then stamped the envelope “Inmate Mail Contents Uncensored Shawnee County Jail” in red ink. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant then forwarded all outgoing communications to the Shawnee County District Attorney for potential use in Plaintiff's criminal case. Plaintiff claims that he was prevented from claiming actual innocence in his criminal case, resulting in a denial of his motion to withdraw pleas and set aside convictions.

         Plaintiff attaches documentation showing his requests to staff for information regarding the facility's outgoing mail policy. The responses from staff set forth the policy as follows:

All mail that comes and goes through this facility is subject to inspection . . . except that which is considered “legal mail”, which chiefly intends correspondence with your defense counsel (to protect attorney-client privileged communications).
If mail is inspected and it contains information relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation or criminal prosecution, it may be turned over to the District Attorney or the relevant law enforcement agency. If it is turned over for use in a criminal prosecution, it will be provided to the defendant with other “discoverable” evidence.

         Doc. 1, at 10. In response to another request by Plaintiff, staff clarified that:

If it can be demonstrated to be “legal mail” - which is not determined by whether or not those words are written on it, but by the addressee - it will be protected from intrusion as long as there is not a clear risk to security involved.

Id. at 12. Staff further clarified the policy:

I am in receipt of your request form that is in follow up to a previous response I provided you on the same general issue. You request that I provide you answers regarding the practice of reviewing outgoing and incoming mail and the practice of officers searching sealed envelopes with “legal mail” written on the outside.
On the first issue, our practice is fairly simple. If a valid request comes from law enforcement or the District Attorney's office to monitor and copy mail that comes in or is sent out for a specific inmate, we honor that request. Any mail reviewed in this manner is then produced to the inmate through the discovery process. We do not participate in the discovery process, because we are not involved in the litigation. We simply filter the mail as requested. In these instances, any mail items that qualify for the definition of “legal mail” is not meddled with. To be clear, however, what constitutes “legal mail” is not defined by the inmate, but by what the law defines as “legal mail.” If you believe any mail intercepted qualifies, and therefore should have been immune from our monitoring process, your remedy is to ask the Criminal Court Judge to have those pieces of mail not allowed into evidence. If the court gives us any direction on that matter, we'll follow that direction.
On the second issue, I want first to emphasize again that pieces of paper and envelopes do not become “mail” or “legal mail” because you designate it as such. It is “mail” when it is put into the “mail system.” It is “legal mail” when it is in the mail system headed to or coming from an entity that is eligible for that status. Until then, it is only paperwork in your cell. Your writing “legal mail” on the outside of an envelope does not give that paperwork immunity from search. It could contain contraband, so it is subject to search at any time on any day by any officer or supervisor in this facility. That is the absolute baseline reality. If you have legal papers that you want to be maintained safely, you can communicate that to the officers and then open those items up in front of the officers so that the papers can be searched. I will not ever give a blanket order to officers not to search something in an inmate's cell or possession. That would be anathema to our core directive of safety and security. I have asked supervisors to remind officers to follow courtesy whenever they're ...

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