Claimant seeks damages for the personal injuries that he sustained on March 7,
1997, during his incarceration at Tappan Correctional Facility ("Tappan").
Claimant's ankle was broken during a struggle with correction officers who were
attempting to frisk and subdue claimant. The trial of this claim was bifurcated
and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of
Claimant testified that on March 7, 1997, he found a one inch single edge razor
blade near the bathroom in Building 11. Claimant placed the razor in the brim
of his wool hat and proceeded to Building 9, another housing unit, with the
intention of "swapping"
the razor for
Claimant knew that he was not
permitted in Building 9.
Claimant was not able to complete the transaction and headed back to Building
11. En route, he was stopped by two correction officers who directed claimant
to put his hands against the wall. Claimant did not comply. After a second
command, claimant placed the razor in his cupped right hand and raised his hands
above his head and placed them on the wall with his legs spread apart.
According to claimant, one of the officers struck claimant's right hand and
claimant thought that the razor was now visible. Fearing a reprimand, claimant
turned to the left and ran toward a fence where he planned to discard the razor.
Claimant testified that he had a scheduled parole date and was afraid that, if
he were found to be in possession of the razor, an extra year would be imposed
on his sentence. Claimant never reached the fence because he was stopped by
several other correction officers in his path. Claimant then hid the razor in
The officers placed claimant face down on the ground and handcuffed him.
Claimant repeatedly denied possession of the razor, while the officers exerted
pressure to claimant's back, shoulder, and neck. According to claimant, in an
effort to get a responsive answer, an officer grabbed claimant's right leg and
twisted it until it broke. Claimant then spit out the razor and it was
retrieved by one of the officers. Claimant was transported to the facility
Correction Officer James Minde, who was assigned to Building 9, testified that
he had known
claimant for one and a half years prior to the incident and was aware that he
was housed in Building 11. Minde observed claimant walking out of Building 9,
not his assigned housing unit, and, following routine procedure, Minde
instructed Claimant to submit to a pat/frisk. Minde was accompanied by
Correction Officer Richard Venetozi. Claimant did not comply until he received
a second order.
As Minde began to pat down
claimant, he observed the partially concealed razor, which is prohibited in the
facility. Minde warned Venetozi that claimant had a weapon. Claimant reacted
immediately by removing his hands from the wall and spinning around. Minde
wrapped his arms around claimant's leg, while Venetozi placed claimant in a bear
hug. Claimant had moved, at most, two to three feet before he was brought down
to the ground and handcuffed. Minde denied twisting claimant's right foot in an
attempt to have him reveal the razor. Minde stated that the only injuries
claimant had sustained were incurred from the officers' attempt to subdue
claimant and handcuff him.
Correction Officer Richard Venetozi testified that, after claimant suddenly
spun around off the wall,
claimant became combative and Venetozi was concerned about the weapon. Venetozi
grabbed claimant's upper body in a bear hug as claimant resisted. A struggle
ensued and claimant was subsequently placed on the ground. Venetozi held
claimant's upper torso and Minde secured claimant's legs. Venetozi sustained a
knee injury in the scuffle and was treated at Phelps Memorial
Correction Officer Bruno St. John testified that
he did not assist in placing claimant on the ground, but he did apply the
handcuffs. St. John recovered the razor blade. St. John was treated at an
outside hospital for back injuries sustained in the
Upon listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they
did so, the Court finds that claimant's version of the incident strains
credulity and that the testimony of the correction officers, which sharply
disputed claimant's account of the alleged incident, was forthright and
credible. The Court further finds that the force used to subdue
claimant, who was armed, attempted to flee, and resisted the officers, was
reasonable under the circumstances and not excessive.
Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved,
is now GRANTED.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 95900.