New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DAVIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-007-511, Claim No. 98904


Synopsis


Claimant was assaulted by two other inmates while working in the mess hall at Clinton Correctional Facility. Claim dismissed.

Case Information

UID:
2000-007-511
Claimant(s):
SEAN DAVIS
Claimant short name:
DAVIS
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
98904
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
John L. Bell
Claimant's attorney:
Sean Davis, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
(Michael Rizzo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General,of Counsel)
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 1, 2000
City:
Plattsburgh
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

On August 8, 1997, claimant, an inmate, was assaulted by two other inmates while working in the mess hall at Clinton Correctional Facility (hereinafter Clinton). Claimant contends,
inter alia, that correction officers in the mess hall failed to intervene and stop the assault in a timely fashion.
Claimant testified that on the date of the incident he was assigned to work on the serving line at the mess hall. At approximately 11:10 a.m., as he was about to serve the first inmates to enter the mess hall for lunch, he suddenly felt "something hot"[1]
in his back. He turned and observed someone swinging a metal object at him. He put up his left arm to protect himself and was stabbed in the left arm. The stabbing continued, with claimant receiving additional wounds in his left shoulder, chest area, neck and left leg. Claimant testified that he was stabbed a total of nine times. During the attack, claimant fell to the floor. Claimant stated that he heard a correction officer repeatedly stating, "Drop the weapon." However, the officer failed to intervene with physical action to assist claimant. He estimated that the correction officer was standing about five feet behind him when the assault started.
After the attack, claimant was taken to the facility hospital and then transported via ambulance to Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in the City of Plattsburgh. Claimant recalled that a chest tube was inserted because his lungs collapsed. He stated that he lost a lot of weight. He reported that he still experiences pain in his back.

On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that he had not received any threats before the attack and that the perpetrators were not on his enemies list. He related that the inmates who attacked him also worked in the mess hall, but he had not previously talked with them or otherwise dealt with them in any fashion.

Correction Officer Dean Linsley testified that he was in the mess hall when claimant was assaulted. He estimated that he was about 40 feet from claimant when the attack commenced. He did not recall seeing any correction officers in close proximity to claimant at the time of the attack. The officer explained that the serving line was approximately 80 feet long and that the officer assigned to the area can be anywhere along the line. Officer Linsley stated that as soon as he observed the attack he drew his baton and "walked fast" to the site as he hollered at the attackers to drop their weapons. He recalled that after he had "yelled a couple of times" the inmates ceased the assault. He estimated the length of time from the start of the assault to when the inmates dropped their weapons to be about 10 seconds.

Sergeant Paul Champagne was in the mess hall and saw two inmates attacking claimant. He stated that there was not an officer near claimant when the assault commenced. He called a "level two" on his radio, which is the "most serious response." He then drew his baton and proceeded to the site of the assault. The sergeant gave verbal orders for the assailants to cease their attack. He estimated that, from start to finish, the entire attack lasted between 10 to 20 seconds. He explained that the inmates in the mess hall were general population inmates and there was no requirement to conduct pat frisks as they entered the mess hall.

Correction Officer Richard Florentine was also in the mess hall at the time of the assault. He estimated that he was about 40 feet away from claimant when the attack started. He proceeded to the area of the attack and gave "several direct orders" for the inmates to stop the assault.

The State has a duty to provide inmates with reasonable protection against the foreseeable risk of attack by other inmates (
Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878). The State is not, however, an insurer of the safety of inmates and the fact that an assault occurs does not give rise to an inference of negligence (Schittino v State of New York, 262 AD2d 824). Indeed, it is well recognized that, by their very nature of being filled with often violent criminals, correctional facilities continually face the potential of violence within their walls (see, e.g., Jones v North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, 433 US 119, 132). To establish liability for an inmate-on-inmate assault, a claimant must show that (1) the victim was a known risk and the State failed to provide reasonable protection (Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562), (2) the State had notice that the assailant was particularly prone to perpetrating such an assault and failed to take proper precautionary measures (Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833), or (3) the State had ample notice and ample opportunity to intervene but failed to act (see, Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
Here, claimant contends that an officer was within five feet of him when the assault started and that the officer failed to stop the assault. The credible evidence, however, established that the nearest officers were approximately 40 feet away. When the assault started, the officers immediately proceeded to the site and ordered the assailants to cease the attack. Although the assailants did stab claimant after the officers began yelling at them, the entire assault was over within a matter of seconds. It was not incumbent upon the first officer arriving at the scene to immediately interject himself physically into the dangerous situation (
see, Pierrelouis v State of New York, 255 AD2d 824, 826). The court finds that the officers' actions were reasonable under the prevailing circumstances.
Although the attack upon claimant resulted in serious injuries inflicted by cowardly and contemptible conduct, the evidence failed to establish that culpable conduct of defendant caused or contributed to the assault.

The claim is dismissed and the Chief Clerk of the Court of Claims is directed to enter judgment accordingly.


May 1, 2000
Plattsburgh, New York

HON. JOHN L. BELL
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]
All quotes are from the court's trial notes unless otherwise indicated.