IN THE LEGISLATIVE CLAIMS COMMISSION OF THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA
DIVISION OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION
Claimant appeared pro se.
Briana J. Marino, Assistant Attorney General, for the Respondent.
The Claimant filed this claim to recover the value of certain personal property that he alleged was damaged and lost while under the care of the Respondent.
The Claimant and the Respondent, through its counsel, appeared for a hearing before the Legislative Claims Commission on November 22, 2019.
The Claimant is incarcerated at Mount Olive Correctional Complex. At the hearing, he testified that on July 10, 2018, he and his cell mate were taken to the segregation unit. When he was released from segregation and returned to the general population, he discovered that some of his personal property had been damaged while other items were missing. He further testified that he had received his copies of the personal property forms for his property that had been stored in the State Shop and also the property he was allowed to take with him to the segregation unit. He alleged that as a result of an officer entering his cell and conducting a cell search on her own, his personal property was damaged. He further alleged that when his property was returned to him following segregation, his beard trimmer, boots, sweatpants, sweatshirts had laundry detergent spilled on them. He further alleged that his television and his Xbox 360 were also damaged. The Claimant placed a value of $1,076.52 on his missing and damaged personal property. The Claimant filed a grievance regarding his damaged property which was ultimately denied upon appeal.
The Claimant’s witness, Kelli Hinte, a unit manager at Mount Olive, testified that the Claimant and his cellmate were caught on camera stealing items from the Respondent’s state shop and were then taken to segregation. She locked the Claimant’s cell until the employees from the State Shop were able to inventory the Claimant’s property and take it to the State Shop while the Claimant was in segregation. She testified that the cell was in “pretty rough shape” with property all over the floor; she was unable to determine which cellmate owned which property.
The Claimant also called Kristi Blankenship, the Coordinator of the State Shop, as a witness, who testified that when she saw the Claimant’s cell, there was “stuff everywhere”. She testified that it was difficult to determine which inmate was the owner of property because it was so mixed up. She inventoried the Claimant’s personal property; she also separated the property based on the Claimant’s Identification Number that was marked on each item. Any item without an identification number was considered contraband and a seizure report was issued for each unmarked item. These items were ultimately destroyed. Ms. Blankenship testified further that the State Shop will engrave the identification number on certain items, such as electronics; however, an inmate is responsible for assuring that their number is always stamped on their state issued clothing items. She testified that when contraband items are seized, a seizure report is completed by the appropriate staff member. The inmate is given a copy of the report and is given the option to either have the confiscated items mailed to a family member or destroyed. The inmate must notify the State Shop within thirty days of their decision. If the State Shop is not notified that the inmate opts to have the items mailed out within the thirty day time frame, the items are destroyed. Ms. Blankenship testified that the confiscated items in the Claimant’s cell were considered contraband. The Claimant’s belongings did not have his identification number on them, he was over the limit of allowable items and certain items had been altered in violation of the Respondent’s policies on personal property. When an inmate is removed from their cell, the State Shop employees inventory the personal property in the cell, pack it up and take it to the State Shop for storage. An inventory form is completed with a copy provided to the Claimant. Upon the Claimant’s release from segregation, his property was returned to him. He also signed a property sheet acknowledging the delivery of his personal property and that he had reviewed both the inventory sheet and the property that was being returned to him to assure that all of his property was accounted for accurately. Any inaccuracies in the inventory report are to be addressed at the time the personal property is returned to the inmate. Ms. Blankenship testified that there was no laundry detergent on any of the Claimant’s property when she and another employee inventoried, packed up and transported his property to the State Shop. She further testified that there was no laundry detergent present on his property when she retrieved it from storage and prepared it to be taken to the Claimant upon his release from segregation. Additionally, she testified that the Claimant signed the property sheet indicating that his property had been returned to him. There were no notations as to any laundry detergent on any of his property items or that any of his property was missing or damaged.
The Claimant also called his cellmate, Kevin Chapman, as a witness. He testified that they kept their cell in a neat and orderly fashion. Their electronic personal property was also in proper working order before they were removed from their cell. He testified that some of his personal property items were also seized because they lacked an identification number and that he received the property seizure report.
The Respondent disputed the validity of the claim in its pleadings and at the hearing. The Respondent asserted that it had properly discharged its duties to the Claimant and further, that the personal property claimed as damaged by the Claimant was considered contraband pursuant to the policies of the Respondent.
Upon consideration of the evidence filed in this claim and the testimony given at the hearing, the Claims Commission finds that the Claimant did not follow the Respondent’s policies with respect to identification on his property and accordingly, the Claimant’s property was confiscated as contraband and destroyed in accordance with the Respondent’s policies. The Claims Commission further finds that the Respondent was following its longstanding policies and procedures for property identification and storage in handling and storing the Claimant’s personal property when he was transferred to the segregation unit. The Claims Commission further finds that the Respondent properly and reasonably discharged its duty to the Claimant to provide a means of storage for his personal property when the Claimant was in segregation. The Claimant did not provide sufficient evidence to the Claims Commission to establish that the Respondent was liable for the alleged damage to the Claimant’s property, and accordingly, the Claimant failed to satisfy his burden of proof in this claim.
Based on the foregoing, the Legislative Claims Commission is of the opinion to, and does hereby, deny the Claimant’s claim.