New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CLARK v.THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-004-009, Claim No. 98652


Synopsis


Inmate suicide/murder allegedly caused by negligent supervision.

Case Information

UID:
2000-004-009
Claimant(s):
PUBLIC ADMINISTRATOR OF QUEENS COUNTY as Administrator of the Estate of ROBIN TURNER CLARK and GLORIA TURNER as Guardian of the Infant RHAMEL JOHN
Claimant short name:
CLARK
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
98652
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
JEROME F. HANIFIN
Claimant's attorney:
TRACIE A. SUNDACK, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: JAMES E. SHOEMAKERAssistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision
The Claim alleges in pertinent part:
2. The deceased, ROBIN TURNER CLARK, died on September 21, 1996 and left her son, the infant RHAMEL JOHN, as her only distributee.

3. On December 10, 1996, the deceased's sister GLORIA TURNER was duly appointed guardian of the person of the infant RHAMEL JOHN. On March 13, 1997 GLORIA TURNER was appointed guardian of the infant's property. On June 22, 1998 THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATOR OF QUEENS COUNTY was appointed Administrator of Robin Turner's estate.

***

5. The time when and place where such claim arose and the nature of the same are as follows:

TIME: September 21, 1996 at approximately 2:00 A.M.

PLACE: Elmira Correctional Facility

Visitation Center

MANNER: The deceased ROBIN TURNER and her son

RHAMEL JOHN were visiting David Legret Clark (The "Inmate") for a scheduled conjugal visit from September 19, 1996 to September 21, 1996. While the Infant was within the zone of danger, the Inmate strangled ROBIN TURNER to death, and then committed suicide.

6. The basis of the claim herein is as follows:

(a) The claim is for damages by reason of the negligent, careless and wrongful acts of the State of New York, its agents, servants and employees in connection with the care, treatment and supervision of the inmate DAVID LEGRET CLARK (the "Inmate"), and the failure to warn the deceased.

***

(c) The careless, negligent and wrongful acts of the State of New York, its agents, servants and employees consisted of the following:

i. Negligently hiring improper, unfit, insufficiently trained and insufficiently skilled persons to manage and supervise the Family Reunion Program and particularly the Inmate's participation in same.

ii. Negligently and carelessly failing to furnish the deceased with proper constant and reliable care, treatment and supervision and attention, having knowledge of the mental condition, vicious propensities, history and criminal record of the inmate.

iii. Failing to take reasonable precautions, based upon knowledge within its possession of the mental condition, vicious propensities, history, criminal recorde [sic], and prior threats of DAVID LEGRET CLARK, so as to protect ROBIN TURNER and those participating in the Family Reunion Program.

iv. Failing to provide a safe place for the Inmate where he could be kept in full view and observation, and in permitting the means for murder and suicide to be available to him, having knowledge of the Inmate's mental condition, vicious propensities, history, criminal record and prior threats of harming the deceased.

***

vi. In violating defendant's own rules by allowing the inmate to participate in the Family Reunion Program.

vii. In sponsoring the Family Reunion Program.

viii. In failing to warn the deceased of the Inmate's mental condition, vicious propensities, history, criminal record and prior threats of harming the deceased.

ix. In negligently giving the Inmate the opportunity to kill the decedent during a conjugal visit, while having knowledge of Inmate's personality, vicious propensities, history and criminal record.
Tragically, David Legret Clark (Clark) did kill his wife Robin Turner Clark (Turner) and then ended his own life, during a regularly scheduled conjugal visit at the Elmira Correctional Facility (E.C.F.) at a time when Turner's son Rhamel John was present in the visitation trailer.


While various theories of recovery are set forth in the Claim, the true gravamen of the Claim and the only theory pursued at trial is that the defendant, or more specifically, employees of the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), knew or should have known that the murder/suicide might occur and thus should not have allowed the conjugal visit.


The Claim must be dismissed, because the proof presented utterly fails to even raise an inference that DOCS or its employees should have anticipated this terrible happening.


Two witnesses testified at the trial.


The first was Sharley Baker who is the Coordinator of Family Services for the DOCS and who oversees the family visit program, statewide, for DOCS. She testified that she reviews every application for a conjugal visit and, thus, reviewed the application which gave rise to the visit which resulted in this Claim. Claimant's Exhibit 3 is DOCS Directive 4500, which sets forth the criteria for the "FAMILY REUNION PROGRAM". There is absolutely nothing in the proof that would even suggest that the standards set forth in this Directive were not followed in connection with the tragic conjugal visit of September 21, 1996. State's Exhibit A is a copy of an "UNUSUAL INCIDENT REPORT" dated March 1, 1995 which describes a complaint made by a wife with regard to her inmate husband during a conjugal visit. The report reads, in part, that the wife "was checked by the facility medical dept. and had no apparent injuries. She stated that she had pain in her head and neck where [the inmate husband] had struck her. She declined further medical attention". Sharley Baker testified that this was the only incident report that she was aware of "in the 26 year history of the program".[1]


The second witness was Shirley Turner, the mother of Turner. Shirley Turner testified that she did not know that her daughter and Clark were married. She also testified that when she learned that her daughter was going to visit Clark at the E.C.F. she was "upset that she was going. But, I had no idea she would be killed". Shirley Turner received a letter from Clark postmarked September 10, 1996, but received by her "two days after my daughter was killed". The letter is in evidence as a part of Claimant's Exhibit 6. In the letter Clark accuses his wife, Turner, of having an affair. The letter is long and rambling. It includes the comments, quoted verbatim, "my life has been completely destroyed...and someone will have to pay for the damages of my life" and "I do not intend to go down alone" and "the actions that I will take will be a brave man's action with a heart of steel" and, finally, "they did it to me and I take the saying an eye for an eye, very serious, especially in a desperate situation like this...".


Exhibit 6 includes a copy of a letter dated September 8, 1996 from Clark to Turner's alleged lover. This letter was also apparently mailed so that it would be received after the conjugal visit as well. At least, that is what is implied by a footnote at the end of the letter. In any event, there is absolutely nothing in the record that suggests that this letter, or the import of its contents, ever came into the possession of the DOCS. In this letter Clark, quoted verbatim, states, "I don't know how long this crazy relationship has lasted between you and Robin but all I really know is that I will end it and for good" and "She will pay first by rendering me with all her love, then the complete truth from her mouth about everything. Then you will pay dearly, by never being able to touch or to hold her in her tenderness or in your lustful idea of love, ever again". Claimant signed this letter "Sincerely Your Destroyer" and added a PS which reads, "May you (illegible) forever, because by the time that you would of received this letter. I have fulfilled my finale
vow".

Exhibit 6 also includes a letter from Clark to Turner, dated August 30, 1996 which, one infers, was written before he learned of the alleged affair. He ends the letter with "I love you with all of my heart" adding a PS that reads "I know in your heart you are really faithful to me. I love you baby" and a PSS which reads "Write back soon and hugs and kisses for Rhamel, for me".


There is absolutely nothing in the trial record which even intimates that any DOCS employee had an inkling of what these letters to Turner and to the alleged lover portend.


There are two exhibits in evidence which merit brief comment.


The first, Claimant's Exhibit 7, is a compilation of some medical records which Clark apparently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in September of 1994 from the New York City Department of Health. The medical records are fragmented and contain the following entries, all presumably made sometime prior to September 1, 1994, after "HISTORY OF SELF MUTILATIONS", "cut wrist while high", Under "
Suicidal", "No Suicidal Ideation" and, at another point, under "SUICIDAL IDEATION", "Not currently feeling suicidal ideation, no intent".

The second exhibit, Claimant's Exhibit 4, is a DOCS printout of various records with regard to Clark. We find therein, "Clark is a career criminal and a predicate felony offender. A review of his criminal record indicates a pattern of assaults and larcenous offenses..." we also find an entry that on July 18, 1996 there was a "FMLY REUNION" at the E.C.F. The conjugal visit at the E.C.F. on September 21, 1996 which ended in tragedy is also described in Claimant's Exhibit 4 as a "FMLY REUNION".


From the foregoing it is reasonable to infer that Turner visited Clark on July 18, 1996 and, at that time, he did not suspect that she might be having an affair. This is borne out by the aforedescribed letter from Clark to Turner dated August 30, 1996.


A review of Claimant's Exhibits 4 and 7 simply enforces the view that there was absolutely nothing that DOCS employees knew, prior to the tragic murder/suicide, that would have denied or, if granted, canceled the conjugal visit.


The Claim is dismissed.


ENTER JUDGMENT.


August 11, 2000
Binghamton, New York

HON. JEROME F. HANIFIN
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the Court's trial notes or from the trial electronic recording cassettes.