New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

KAHN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-010-073, Claim No. 92055


Court officer did not establish that correction officers were negligent in their supervision of inmate who escaped from his handcuffs and injured claimant.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
DIENST & SERRINS, LLPBy: Brian Schwartz, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Barry Kaufman, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 6, 2000
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, David Kahn,[1]a detective in the Rockland County Sheriff's Department assigned to security in Rockland County Family Court, seeks damages for injuries he sustained on July 18, 1994 while attempting to subdue New York State inmate Craig Ruggeri. Ruggeri had been escorted in handcuffs and leg irons from Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing") to Family Court by New York State Department of Correctional Services Officers Pritchard and Frary. During the Family Court proceeding, Ruggeri escaped from his handcuffs. The two correction officers and claimant struggled to subdue Ruggeri. Claimant was injured in the struggle and asserts that the incident would not have occurred absent defendant's negligence. Specifically, claimant alleges that defendant was negligent in failing to: identify Ruggeri as an escape risk prior to July 18, 1994; have a third officer escort Ruggeri; physically inspect Ruggeri's handcuffs and direct Ruggeri to keep his hands above the table in the courtroom. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
On July 18, 1994,
claimant observed Ruggeri being escorted to Family Court by Correction Officers Pritchard and Frary. Pritchard was armed and Frary was not. Ruggeri, who was 5'6" and 140 pounds, was handcuffed and in leg irons. Claimant testified that, in April or May 1994, he had observed Ruggeri in the Family Court holding room remove his handcuffs and take off his sweatshirt because he was hot. On that occasion, claimant drew his gun on Ruggeri and alerted the New York State correction officers. The matter was peacefully resolved without any injury to person or property. Claimant did not file an incident report regarding Ruggeri's behavior. Upon observing Ruggeri on July 18, 1994, claimant alerted Pritchard that, based upon this earlier court appearance, Ruggeri was an escape risk and had previously extricated himself from his handcuffs.
Pritchard and Frary escorted Ruggeri in handcuffs and ankle shackles from the holding room into the courtroom. Ruggeri was seated at the judge's right with Pritchard and Frary standing behind Ruggeri at a distance of approximately three feet. Claimant entered the courtroom and was a distance of approximately 15 to 17 feet from Ruggeri (T:65).[2]
Claimant observed Ruggeri in an agitated state, pumping his legs up and down. Claimant testified that:
I stepped into the room quietly, I had taken approximately two or three steps [and was at a distance of approximately 9 feet] when suddenly Mr. Ruggeri exploded straight upward into a standing motion, and in that same instance, I observed him withdrawing his hands from the handcuffs that were at his waist and bringing them directly over his head and start to turn towards me. *** I instantly sprinted the remaining distance between myself and Mr. Ruggeri to attempt to control him and prevent him from getting to any other persons or personnel that were in the Courtroom.

(T:50-51, 65). Pritchard and Frary, who were closer to Ruggeri, took hold of Ruggeri. Two Rockland County police officers, Foody and Zalesky, also entered the courtroom and joined in the effort to restrain Ruggeri. Foody was 6'1" and 190 pounds. Claimant was 5' 9½" and 159 pounds. During the struggle, claimant felt his arm "pop" (T:52). Claimant sprayed Ruggeri with pepper spray. Ruggeri was brought under control and recuffed. The entire incident lasted three to four minutes.
Claimant conceded that the only training he had in subduing individuals was in the police academy in 1981 and that he did not have any on-the-job training (T:67). Claimant admitted that there were many arms and hands moving at the same time in the efforts to restrain Ruggeri and that with regard to claimant's arm injury, claimant stated, "[w]hen my arm got over my head, I don't know how - - I couldn't say specifically that he [Ruggeri] did it, or whatever" (T:69). When asked if the injury could have resulted from claimant's interaction with the other officers, claimant responded, "Anything is possible" (T:69). "Yes, that's possible" (T:73).
Rockland County Assistant County Attorney, Nicholas Delpizzo, testified that on July 18, 1994 he observed Ruggeri wrestle out of his handcuffs and the officers attempt to restrain him. Delpizzo testified that 15 to 30 seconds elapsed from the time that he observed Ruggeri extricate himself from the cuffs until Delpizzo left the courtroom for safety reasons (T:20). Delpizzo noted that, prior to the incident, Ruggeri's wife was about to sign a document and that caused Ruggeri to lose his temper and attempt to "get at her" (T:34).

Correction Officer Tyrone Pritchard testified that he had been a correction officer for 16 years and in July 1994 was assigned as a transportation officer. As part of his duties, he was responsible for transporting inmates to courts, hospitals and funerals. Pritchard and Frary transported Ruggeri from Sing Sing to Family Court. Handcuffs with a black box, leg irons and a waist chain were placed on Ruggeri at Sing Sing. Pritchard stated that black boxes are used on handcuffs 99 percent of the time. He conceded that, if an individual is double-jointed, it is easier to get out of the handcuffs when a black box is used because it makes the cuffs more rigid. There was no evidence that Ruggeri was double-jointed.
Pritchard explained that he did not physically inspect the restraints because he was armed and did not want to get that close to the inmate. Therefore, Pritchard visually inspected the restraints. He made such inspection when they arrived at the courthouse and again when Ruggeri was moved from the holding area to the courtroom. On both occasions, Pritchard observed that the cuffs were properly on Ruggeri's wrists. Pritchard testified that Frary, who was not armed, had probably done a physical inspection. Pritchard, however, had not observed Frary do an inspection and claimant did not call Frary to testify.

Upon arrival at the courthouse, claimant warned Pritchard that Ruggeri had previously extricated himself from his handcuffs during his last court appearance. Pritchard cautioned Frary to watch Ruggeri closely. Pritchard then telephoned his supervisor at Sing Sing and requested a different vehicle for transporting Ruggeri because the one that they had used did not have a security gate separating the front and back seats. Pritchard was concerned that, if Ruggeri could remove his cuffs, then he could reach over the seat and attempt to grab Pritchard's weapon. The supervisor directed Pritchard to complete a report regarding the newly learned information. According to Pritchard, this meant that he was required to write a memorandum to his supervisor. In 1994, only supervisors would have prepared a document known as an Unusual Incident Report.
On July 18, 1994, Pritchard did not have any written record of a prior incident where Ruggeri had extricated himself from his handcuffs. When they left Sing Sing, the officers were only handed Ruggeri's commitment papers and an order to produce. At trial, Pritchard was presented with a document classifying Ruggeri a Central Monitor Case (CMC), Criterion III-B-9 (Ex. 12). Pritchard testified that, although he did not have this document in his possession on July 18, 1994, it would not have affected the transportation of Ruggeri. Pritchard testified that a CMC classification meant that the officers should keep a "close watch" on the inmate (T:131).

As to the events in the courtroom, Pritchard testified that he was standing a little more than arm's length behind Ruggeri. Pritchard observed that Ruggeri's hands were under the table and that he was cursing. Pritchard stated, "All I saw him do was stiffen up his arms, and that's the way he got out, came right out of them [the handcuffs]" (T:160). Ruggeri lifted his hands, stood up and swung at Pritchard. Pritchard grabbed Ruggeri and threw him on the table. Ruggeri was lying on his back, kicking and trying to pull away. Claimant approached and pepper sprayed Ruggeri. Pritchard estimated that approximately one minute had elapsed from the time that Ruggeri stood up until he was sprayed. On cross-examination, however, Pritchard
's estimate was closer to ten seconds (T:181).
After the incident, Pritchard telephoned his supervisor. A third correction officer with a different van was dispatched to the courthouse. Subsequently, an
Unusual Incident Report was prepared charging Ruggeri with assault and disruptive behavior (Ex. 7 ).
Claimant offered the expert testimony of Dr. Ali Al-Rahman, a Professor of Criminal Justice at Nassau Community College. Al-Rahman had been a correction officer with the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") for one year and the City of New York for 12 years. In addition, he served for ten years as warden for the correctional facilities on Rikers Island in New York City.

According to Al-Rahman, the failure of the correction officer to report the spring 1994 incident where Ruggeri had extricated himself from his handcuffs was a deviation from good and accepted correctional practices. Al-Rahman further stated that, if a report had been filed, then on July 18, 1994, the correction officers would have had a heightened awareness in their supervision of Ruggeri. Specifically, Al-Rahman maintained that DOCS Directive Number 4004 mandated that the prior incident should have been memorialized in an Unusual Incident Report as an attempted escape and maintained in the facility files (Ex. 13). Ruggeri's disciplinary history had no record of the purported incident (Ex. 9).

Al-Rahman further testified that had there been such report, Ruggeri then would have been classified as CMC based upon an attempted escape. Such classification would have resulted in transporting Ruggeri with a supervisor as an additional escort. On cross-examination, it was elicited that, based upon the nature of his conviction, Ruggeri was classified as CMC and that the number of correction officers assigned to escort inmates was particularly within the discretion of the Deputy Superintendent of Security. There was no directive setting forth a specific requirement detailing the number of officers to be utilized.

Al-Rahman opined that the correction officers also deviated from good and accepted practices in failing to follow Section 17.9 of the Employees Manual which provides that when inmates are being transported "restraints shall be inspected frequently by escorting officers" (Ex. 14, p. 49).
According to Al-Rahman, this meant a physical inspection rather than a visual one; although he had no support for his interpretation. On cross-examination, Al-Rahman conceded that section 17.9 referred to transportation of inmates and did not address courtroom custody.[3]
Al-Rahman also testified that the officers should not have permitted Ruggeri to keep his hands under the table in the courtroom. Al-Rahman conceded, however, that there was nothing in the directive or the employee manual that required an inmate's hands to be placed on top of the table at all times (T:293).

The basis for claimants' negligence claim is the State's performance of a governmental function, i.e., its supervision of a State inmate (
see, Sebastian v State of New York, 93 NY2d 790). Thus, claimants cannot prevail absent a showing of a special relationship between the injured claimant and the State. Even assuming, arguendo, that there was a special relationship, claimants failed to establish that defendant's alleged negligence was a cause of claimant's injuries. Additionally, the employee manual is not a well-developed body of law which can serve as a predicate for liability under General Municipal Law 205-e (see, Desmond v City of New York, 88 NY2d 455 [police department directive cannot sustain a cause of action under General Municipal Law 205-e]; Flynn v City of New York, 258 AD2d 129 [police department training manual and patrol guide could not be a basis for liability under General Municipal Law 205-e]; Von Ancken v City of New York, 245 AD2d 286 [fire department directive was not a proper basis for General Municipal Law 205-e liability]).
Upon listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that the credible evidence established that the events in the courtroom quickly unfolded and that Ruggeri extricated himself from the handcuffs in open view
. Indeed, claimant testified that Ruggeri "suddenly *** exploded" into a standing position and claimant observed Ruggeri withdraw his hands from the cuffs (T:50-51). Assistant County Attorney Delpizzo also observed Ruggeri wrestle out of his handcuffs. This is consistent with Pritchard's testimony that he observed Ruggeri stiffen his arms and come out of his cuffs. The record is devoid of any evidence that defendant's failure to keep Ruggeri from placing his hands under the table was a violation of any rule or directive or that Ruggeri did anything under the table to enable him to get out of his cuffs. Rather, the testimony established that Ruggeri was observed wrestling out of his cuffs while his hands were above the table. The absence of an Unusual Incident Report was of no consequence because, upon arrival at Family Court, claimant warned Pritchard and Frary that Ruggeri had previously extricated himself from his handcuffs.
Pritchard visually inspected Ruggeri's handcuffs and gave a reasonable explanation that he did not physically inspect them because he was wearing a weapon and therefore did not want to get too close to Ruggeri for security reasons. Claimants did not establish that a physical inspection was required nor that one was not done by Frary, who was unarmed.

There was no proof that a third escorting officer was required. In any event, there was no proof that the presence of a third officer would have had any effect on claimant's resulting injuries. Notably, claimant, who had not had any on-the-job training in subduing individuals, was at a distance of approximately nine feet from Ruggeri when he exploded within arm's reach of Officers Pritchard and Frary. Yet, claimant sprinted to the scuffle and interjected himself.
Claimant conceded that he could not specifically state that Ruggeri had caused him injury or whether it was Pritchard, Frary or the other two Rockland County police officers who assisted at the scene. It is not clear, from the evidence presented, to what extent claimant assisted in physically subduing Ruggeri before he resorted to the pepper spray. Claimants failed to establish that the presence of a third escorting officer would have prevented claimant's injuries.
In sum, the evidence presented does not establish that
defendant was negligent or that any alleged negligence was a proximate cause of claimant's injuries. Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED.

November 6, 2000
White Plains , New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

Claimant shall refer to David Kahn. The claim of Deborah Kahn, claimant's wife, is derivative.
All references to the trial transcript are preceded by the letter "T."
Pritchard testified that Section 17.9 related only to transportation of inmates (T:181).