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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Joseph Chesnut #157134 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Joseph Chesnut #157134

South Carolina Department of Corrections





In the above-captioned matter, Appellant Joseph Chestnut appeals the decision of Respondent South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC or Department) to revoke 785 days of his “good-time” credit and temporarily suspend his telephone privileges as punishment for taking hostages in violation of DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.11. Having reviewed the record, the applicable law, and the briefs filed by the parties in this matter, I conclude that this matter must be remanded to the Department for a new evidentiary hearing.


On October 29, 2003, two corrections officers at the Lee Correctional Institution were taken hostage during an inmate riot. In a brief incident report filed on October 30, 2003, Captain Arenda Thomas stated that Appellant was “observed and videotaped” making threats and demands during the hostage situation. As a result of this report, Appellant was charged with violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.11, Hostage Taking.

Appellant was notified of the charge against him on October 3, 2003, and a hearing on the charge was held before a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) on October 5, 2003. At the hearing, the incident report filed by Captain Thomas was read into the record and Captain Thomas was present to confirm the details of her report. However, the testimony of Captain Thomas at the hearing consisted only of three words: “yes,” her report was true and correct; “yes,” she positively identified Appellant as a participant in the hostage taking situation; and “no,” she did not have any additional statements to make. In his testimony at the hearing, Appellant acknowledged that he was caught up in the hostage situation, but he further contended that the only actions he took were to secure bandages, gauze, and other first aid items for, and at the request of, the injured corrections officers who were held hostage by other inmates. Appellant’s counsel substitute attempted to secure statements from the two officers who were taken hostage to confirm Appellant’s testimony, but the two officers were on leave as a result of the hostage incident, and thus were not available to be interviewed or to testify at the disciplinary hearing.

At the close of the hearing, the DHO found Appellant guilty of the charge against him and prepared a written report containing his findings. As punishment for the offense, the DHO revoked 785 days of Appellant’s good-time credit and suspended his telephone privileges for 45 days. Appellant appealed his disciplinary conviction to the Department and then to this Court. On appeal, Appellant contends that his disciplinary conviction was obtained in violation of his due process rights because he was not allowed to present exculpatory testimony from the two officers who were taken hostage.


This appeal is before this Court pursuant to Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000), Sullivan v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 355 S.C. 437, 586 S.E.2d 124 (2003), and Slezak v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 361 S.C. 327, 605 S.E.2d 506 (2004). Having carefully reviewed the record in this matter under the due process standards set out in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974), Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000), and their progeny, I find that Appellant’s disciplinary conviction must be reversed and this matter remanded to the Department for a new evidentiary hearing. The evidence presented at the disciplinary hearing is simply insufficient to support Appellant’s conviction. The incident report and testimony provided by Captain Thomas—the sole evidence presented against Appellant at the disciplinary hearing—merely state, in conclusory terms, that Appellant was identified as participating in the hostage situation. It does not appear from the terms of the incident report or from the transcript of the hearing that Captain Thomas actually heard Appellant making threats or demands or witnessed Appellant taking actions of a threatening nature, nor does it appear that Captain Thomas spoke to any individuals who heard such threats or witnessed such actions. There are no specific facts or details provided in Captain Thomas’ brief statements indicating what led her to conclude that Appellant was an active participant in the hostage taking, rather than a bystander caught-up in the incident, who was merely attempting to secure first aid supplies for the injured officers. In short, while Captain Thomas, or other officers, may have witnessed Appellant taking actions or making statements that would establish his guilt in this matter, no statements or testimony to such an effect were produced at Appellant’s disciplinary hearing.

Due to the paucity of the facts articulated in the record to support Appellant’s disciplinary conviction, this matter must be remanded to the Department for a new evidentiary hearing. The disciplinary offense allegedly committed by Appellant is one of great weight and magnitude that both Appellant and the Department should have an interest in seeing accurately adjudicated. It is not a matter that should be prosecuted lightly, nor is it a matter that should be lightly reversed on appeal. Accordingly, pursuant to this Order, the Department must conduct a new disciplinary hearing on the hostage taking charge against Appellant, in which specific evidence of Appellant’s involvement in the hostage situation, offered by relevant witnesses, is presented to the hearing officer.


For the reasons set forth above,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Appellant’s October 5, 2003 disciplinary conviction for hostage taking is REVERSED and this matter is REMANDED to the Department for a new evidentiary hearing. This hearing must be held within ninety (90) days of the date of this Order.





Administrative Law Judge

Post Office Box 11667

Columbia, South Carolina 29211-1667

June 13, 2005

Columbia, South Carolina

Brown Bldg.






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