Inmate wins habeas relief after kissing allegations led to discipline

An inmate disciplined for allegedly kissing another offender has been granted her petition for habeas corpus relief after a Southern District court judge found the woman was deprived of due process.

Shonda Shropshire, an inmate at Rockville Correctional Facility, faced a discipline charge of attempting to engage in sexual conduct after a lieutenant alleged she saw Shropshire kissing another offender “on the mouth” in front of the chow hall.

In her defense, Shropshire asserted that she was not in a relationship with the other inmate as the lieutenant had observed, but rather that the two offenders were arguing and not touching. Two other inmates provided statements on the issue, asserting that they both saw the women in a heated argument but that they weren’t kissing.

However, Shropshire was found guilty of the charge based solely on the testimony of the lieutenant. A hearing officer who made the decision then deprived Shropshire of 30 days’ earned credit time and assessed a suspended sanction of another 30 days’ earned credit time.

When Shropshire made an administrative appeal, the appeal review officer modified her charge to “disorderly conduct” and simply stated “the facts of the charged conduct more properly indicate a violation of code (Code) B236.” He did not, however, explain what evidence led him to that conclusion or why.

Ultimately, Shropshire’s sanctions were not modified.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted Shropshire’s petition for habeas corpus relief for two reasons, first finding that no evidence supports the appeal review officer’s conclusion that she engaged in disorderly conduct.

“The respondent asserts that ‘[a] reasonable hearing officer could readily find that two offenders who are standing so close together that a correctional officer believed they were kissing, while engaged in a heated argument were being disorderly.’ But Code B236 requires more than a generic finding that conduct was ‘disorderly.’ Code B236 punishes conduct that ‘disrupts security.’ The respondent identifies no evidence that Ms. Shropshire’s conduct disrupted security, and the Court finds none in the record. The conclusion the respondent advances would be based on speculation—not on evidence,” Judge Tanya Walton Pratt wrote for the district court.

The district court additionally concluded that Shropshire was not given sufficient notice of the disciplinary charge for which she ultimately was convicted and punished, noting that the factual basis for her attempted sexual conduct charge was not the same as the factual basis for the modified charge imposed by the appeal review officer.

“The notice she received did not permit her to ‘gather the relevant facts and prepare a defense’ to the charge of which she was ultimately convicted. The appeal review officer’s modification deprived Ms. Shropshire of due process and therefore entitles her to habeas relief,” the district court wrote.

It therefore ordered Shropshire’s disciplinary conviction be vacated and her sanctions rescinded in Shropshire v. Warden, 1:19-cv-02408. Her earned credit time was also ordered to be immediately restored and her new release date be calculated accordingly.

According to Indiana Department of Correction records, Shropshire was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2016 for a LaPorte County arson conviction.

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