Claimant, Carl Wiggins, seeks damages for personal injuries sustained by him on
January 2, 1993, when he was assaulted by another inmate while incarcerated at
Auburn Correctional Facility. Claimant alleges that the State was negligent in
failing to protect him in this assault, and that it failed to use adequate
supervision to prevent and/or stop this assault.
Claimant, a general population inmate, had been approved by facility officials
to serve as an inmate barber. On January 2, 1993, claimant was taken by
Correction Officer Thomas Gruver from his cell area to the Special Housing Unit
(hereinafter "SHU") to provide haircuts to inmates in that unit. He was
provided with a cart containing haircutting implements and was placed in "Tank
H", which is a section located between the individual cells of SHU and the outer
gate. Correction Officer Gruver remained outside this locked area. At some
point in time, claimant proceeded to give a haircut to an inmate by the name of
Hector Matos, who resided in SHU.
Claimant testified that after the haircut was finished, inmate Matos returned
to his cell, closed his door, looked in his mirror, and then became angry about
his haircut. Claimant testified that inmate Matos yelled and threatened
claimant. Claimant further testified that Officer Gruver then allowed inmate
Matos to come back out of his cell into Tank H to have his hair re-cut. Officer
Gruver remained on the outside of Tank H while this was being done.
According to claimant, when he completed the task of re-cutting the hair of
inmate Matos, he was assaulted by inmate Matos, who hit him in the face with his
hand and also hit him with a barber stool. Claimant testified that immediately
after he was struck by inmate Matos, he observed a razor in Mr. Matos' hand.
Claimant also testified that during this assault, Officer Gruver did not enter
the cell block until he had backup from other officers, and that he could only
shout at inmate Matos to stop the assault, but took no further action. By the
time that additional officers arrived on the scene, Mr. Matos had finished his
assault and returned to his cell.
Correction Officer Gruver testified that after escorting claimant to Tank H, he
remained outside this section the entire time in order to supervise the haircuts
given to residents of SHU. He testified that claimant had provided haircuts to
other inmates on January 2
nd without any incident, prior to the altercation with inmate Matos. He
testified that claimant was in his view the entire time that he was in Tank H.
However, Officer Gruver testified that inmate Matos never went back into his
cell after receiving his initial haircut and prior to the attack upon claimant.
Instead, he testified that when claimant completed his haircut, inmate Matos
turned on claimant, hitting him with his hands, the stool, and possibly the
Sgt. Mark Querns testified that according to facility procedures, an inmate in
SHU must complete a 30 day adjustment period before they are granted certain
benefits, including a haircut. Furthermore, he testified that inmates in SHU
are only placed in restraints if there is such an order in effect. He further
testified, however, that the only time an SHU inmate could be present in the
tank area without being shackled was when the inmate was receiving a haircut
from an inmate barber, unless there were two guards present in the area.
Finally, Sgt. Querns testified that since a cage officer controls the opening
of an SHU inmate's cell, it would not have been possible for inmate Matos to
return to his cell after his initial haircut, and then return to Tank H to a
receive second haircut as testified to by claimant.
Claimant contends that by virtue of his residency in the SHU unit, inmate Matos
was prone to violence, and that the State was obviously aware of this
propensity. Furthermore, claimant contends that the State was negligent in
permitting claimant and inmate Matos to be alone in Tank H, and that reasonable
steps could have been taken to prevent this assault.
With regard to assaults by one inmate against another, the general law in this
State is well settled.
The State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against foreseeable
risks of attack by other inmates (see, Flaherty v State New York
, 296 NY
342; Dizak v State of New York
, 124 AD2d 329). The State, however, is
not an insurer of the safety of inmates, and the fact that an assault has
occurred does not give rise to an inference of negligence (see, Padgett v
State of New York
, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied
76 NY2d 711; Roudette v
State of New York
, 224 AD2d 808).
Generally, in claims involving the assault against an inmate by another inmate,
liability in a claim asserting negligence on the part of the State must be
predicated upon one of the following grounds: (1) the victim was a known risk
and the State failed to provide reasonable protection (see,
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 (see, Littlejohn v State of New
, 218 AD2d 833; Wilson v State of New York
, 36 AD2d 559); or (3)
the State had ample notice and opportunity to intervene and failed to act (see,
Huertas v State of New York
, 84 AD2d 650).
In this case, claimant did not establish that he was at risk. He testified
that he did not have any problems with any particular inmate in SHU, and that he
had worked in SHU as a barber without incident prior to the date of this
assault. Claimant also testified that he did not even know inmate Matos before
the date of this incident.
Claimant contends, however, that the State should have been aware of Mr. Matos'
violent propensities, simply because he was residing in SHU. However, there was
no evidence of any animosity between claimant and his assailant prior to this
incident, as claimant did not even know Mr. Matos prior to this assault.
Additionally, according to the testimony of Sgt. Querns, since Mr. Matos was
permitted to receive a haircut, he had therefore completed his 30 day adjustment
period upon entering SHU. There was additional testimony indicating that inmate
Matos was not subject to any restraint order. Accordingly, this Court cannot
find that the State had any notice that inmate Matos was prone to such an
assault against claimant, simply by virtue of his residency in SHU.
Additionally, this Court cannot find that the State had notice and an
opportunity to prevent this assault. Claimant contends that Officer Gruver was
aware that inmate Matos had become enraged following his initial haircut, and
that after calming him down, he brought inmate Matos back out of his cell into
Tank H to have his haircut redone, putting him in direct contact with claimant.
It is well recognized that, by their very nature of being filled with violent
criminals, correctional facilities continually face the potential of violence
within their walls (see,
Bell v Wolfish
, 441 US 520, 559; Jones v North Carolina Prisoners'
, 433 US 119, 132). Correction officers are often required to
make difficult decisions, in their discretion, under exceptionally trying
circumstances with regard to the safety of inmates (see, Arteaga v State of
, 72 NY2d 212, 220). After having taken steps to pacify inmate
Matos, Officer Gruver could not have reasonably foreseen that this inmate would
then commence the assault upon claimant, with Officer Gruver standing nearby, in
full view of the area. Even accepting claimant's version of the facts and
assuming such a scenario, the Court cannot find that Officer Gruver was
negligent in returning inmate Matos to the tank to have his haircut redone.
Accordingly, while the assault upon claimant was unfortunate, claimant has
failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that there was any
culpable conduct on the part of the State. Therefore, this claim must be and
hereby is dismissed.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.