A former Department of Correction nurse who treated an inmate now suing DOC for excessive force is facing federal court sanctions after she allegedly submitted false statements claiming to be unaware of the inmate’s accusations.
Nurse Pamela Hagemeier is one of four individuals facing sanctions in the case of Phillip Littler v. Christopher Martinez, et al., 2:16-cv-00472. Littler, 31, who is serving a 45-year prison sentence for a St. Joseph County murder conviction at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, sued Hagemeier, deputy warden Frank Littlejohn and several other DOC defendants after he was forcibly removed from his cell pursuant to a cell extraction on Dec. 27, 2015.
On that day, Littler says correctional officers used excessive force to remove him from a shower and make him comply with a strip search. Specifically, Littler alleges he was sprayed with a chemical agent and shot in the face and the back of the head with a pepperball gun before he was physically removed from the shower. And with respect to Hagemeier, who treated him immediately after the cell extraction, Littler alleges he received inadequate care, all in violation of his constitutional rights.
In Hagemeier’s first sworn statement, submitted in the Indiana Southern District Court, the nurse said Littler had “minor injuries to his nose and lip,” so she cleaned the affected areas, took his vital signs and conducted a visual assessment of his condition. She also said she did not offer Littler any pain medication “due to him refusing any and all medical treatment.”
Further, in her second affidavit, Hagemeier said Littler “never told (her) that he was shot in the face, beaten, or otherwise assaulted by officers.” But that assertion came into question when discovery revealed a video in which Littler can be heard telling Hagemeier, “I just want to tell you for the record, they shot me in the face three times, punched me in the face several times.”
That discrepancy formed the basis of the show-cause proceedings against Hagemeier, resulting in a one-hour hearing before Chief Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson on Tuesday. In a third sworn affidavit filed in October and on the witness stand on Tuesday, Hagemeier maintained she had no memory of Littler telling her about the alleged excessive force during his treatment, and she claimed that even after seeing the video, she still does not recall him making that statement.
“At the time I signed my Second Declaration, I could specifically recall asking Mr. Littler about his injuries, assessing his lip and nose, and asking him if he wanted to shower or wanted ice,” Hagemeier wrote in her third affidavit, submitted in response to the show cause order. “In my mind, I was confident that he had not told me what had happened during the cell extraction – specifically that he had been shot and punched in the face.”
Hagemeier faced questioning from Gavin Rose, an attorney appointed to represent Littler. Rose played portions of the post-cell extraction treatment video during the show-cause hearing, asking Hagemeier to comment on and respond to various statements that she and Littler made.
The video was shaky and was focused on the backs of three correctional officers who donned helmets and face masks because of their participation in the cell extraction. Much of the audio is difficult, if not impossible, to hear, but Littler’s statement about the alleged use of excessive force against him was audible. Some comments from Hagemeier were also audible, including one portion of the video when she can be heard taking Littler’s blood pressure and calling out “120/80.”
But Rose noted medical records completed during Littler’s post-extraction examination indicate his blood pressured with 130/84, a discrepancy Hagemeier attributed to her mistakenly typing the wrong numbers the electronic medical records system. Hagemeier also said she recalled all of Littler’s vital signs — his blood pressure, pulse and respiration level — being within the normal range.
Further, on cross-examination, attorney Jeb Crandall — who is also facing sanctions for submitting Hagemeier’s allegedly false statements — said Littler could be heard asking Hagemeier what a normal blood pressure level is. Only then does Hagemeier say “120/80,” Crandall said, thus proving that there was actually no discrepancy at all. Rose told the court he has watched the video several times and has never heard Littler ask that question.
Other comments from Littler could intermittently be heard on the video, including a comment in which he seems to tell Hagemeier that his whole body hurt, but he was OK. But what was not heard in court by either Rose, Hagemeier or Indiana Lawyer was Littler telling Hagemeier to “go to hell,” as she claimed.
Rose pushed Hagemeier on that point, noting Littler’s tone was never aggressive and he never raised his voice during his interaction with Hagemeier. If he was not audibly angry and if other comments could be heard, then, Rose asked, why could his angry comment toward Hagemeier not be heard?
“That’s just offender Littler,” Hagemeier said. She went on to explain that she examined Littler on multiple occasions and knew that he did not have to be loud or use an aggressive tone to express his anger.
Rose then shifted his focus to Hagemeier’s actual examination of Littler, homing in on statements in her second affidavit indicating she had assessed Littler for a head injury. Hagemeier said she conducted that assessment by moving her finger in front of the inmate’s pupils and shining a light in his eyes.
When asked why this assessment was not notated anywhere but in the second affidavit, Hagemeier said the pupil assessment was part of the process of taking Littler’s vitals. She also said that if she made a record of everything she did when treating offenders, she would get “lost in paperwork.”
But Magnus-Stinson had questions about what constitutes a person’s vital signs, asking defendants’ counsel to submit Corizon Correctional Healthcare’s policies concerning taking vital signs at the time of Littler’s cell extraction. Hagemeier worked for Corizon on Dec. 27, 2015.
Finally, Rose asked Hagemeier if she signed her affidavits based on her recollection of her specific interactions with Littler or based on the general process she follows when treating inmates after cell extractions. The nurse said the affidavits were based on the general process, though Magnus-Stinson noted at least one of the affidavits said it was based on a review of Littler’s medical and cell extraction records. Earlier in the hearing, Hagemeier testified that she did not review those or any other records before signing the statements.
The chief judge also questioned Hagemeier about what she meant when she said, “that’s just offender Littler.” The nurse said her comment was meant to indicate that she was used to Littler’s interactions with prison personnel.
Further, Hagemeier maintained on cross-examination from Crandall that she made an honest mistake and did not intentionally lie to or mislead the court. That assertion echoes those made by Crandall, Littlejohn and deputy attorney general Amanda Fiorini, all of whom are facing sanctions for their roles in making allegedly false statements to the court in Littler’s case.
Crandall urged Magnus-Stinson not to impose sanctions on Hagemeier, and Rose said he would leave that decision to the court. But Rose also said he has “very, very serious concerns about the veracity” of Hagemeier’s affidavits.
The chief judge did not announce any sanctions on Tuesday, but instead said she would issue a comprehensive order with her decisions about sanctions for each of the four individuals at once.