James Walls, the Claimant herein, alleges that the Defendant's agents
negligently failed to protect him from assault by fellow inmates when he was
incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing). Trial of
the matter was held at Sing Sing on September 7, 2001.
Claimant relied on the factual allegations contained in his claim, and his own
testimony at trial. He testified that "on March 11, 1999" he "was released from
keep lock status and had to make a phone
First he "worked out for about 20 minutes on the A-Block yard", then he "went
over to the phone area" and "had to wait for about 5 minutes in order to get a
phone." At approximately 7:20 p.m., as he was speaking on the population phone
for about 15 minutes, he "felt something hitting...[him] in the back of the
Claimant asserted that no correctional personnel were in the immediate area,
although the spot by the phone is supposed to be manned because of the potential
for abuse of phone privileges
He kept being attacked from behind with sharp pointed objects by one
inmate. He started "tussling" with his attacker, and then "another inmate came
to..[his attacker's] aid, and start[ed] swinging at...[claimant] with another
blade or pick or something." Yet a third inmate came to join the attack from
Claimant's left, hitting claimant on the "back of the head" with a "shank." He
stated all three attackers were wearing masks. He pulled the mask down "during
the tussle" on one of his assailants, then he "got the mask off" of "the guy he
had been standing on". The third assailant then ran away, "because he sees the
officers coming." Claimant "swung at the second guy, [getting the mask off] and
see[ing] his face." He said he "must've been fighting for 15 minutes...in an
area open as a baseball diamond."
Three officers came to assist him. One correction officer chased the first
assailant, Correction Officer Cook chased another, and Correction Officer Obie
"grabbed the second guy." Meanwhile, Claimant had "managed to get out of the
crowd and walked out of the area off to the far right hand side of the
fence,...hanging on the fence....[he] realized he was hit...and asked Officer
Obie to ‘get me out of the yard.'"
when officers did come to his aid, he was seriously hurt. He testified that he
sustained multiple stab wounds in the back of his head, and a stab wound in his
left arm. He was taken to the Sing Sing emergency room, then to St. Agnes
Hospital. After his release from the hospital, he was placed in involuntary
On cross-examination Claimant indicated he refused protective custody on his
return to Sing Sing, and thus had to be placed in protective custody
involuntarily, because he'd been on A-Block "for his entire bid," and "wanted an
opportunity to get back at these people." He stated at first "I was
angry....people stabbed me up. I calmed down. Scars started to heal...people
telling him ‘Walls, it's not worth it, get yourself into more trouble', I
tried to do things with a level head."
No other witnesses testified, and no other evidence was presented.
While the State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against
foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates, [
Blake v State of New York
, 259 AD2d 878 (3d Dept. 1999); Sebastiano v
State of New York
, 112 AD2d 562 (3d Dept. 1985)], the State is not the
insurer of the safety of inmates, and the fact that an assault occurs does not
give rise to the inference of negligence (Sebastiano v State of New York
). In order to establish liability on the State's part, an
inmate claimant must allege and prove one of the following grounds: (1) the
victim was a known risk and the State failed to provide reasonable protection
, Sebastiano v State of New York
.); (2) the State had notice that the assailant was dangerous
and refused to take the proper precautions [See
, Littlejohn v
State of New York
, 218 AD2d 833 (3d Dept. 1995); Wilson v State of New
, 36 AD2d 559 (3d Dept. 1971)]; or (3) the State had notice and the
opportunity to intervene to protect the inmate victim and failed to act.
Smith v State of New York
, 284 AD2d 741, 728 NYS2d 530 (3d Dept. 2001).
The mere fact that a correction officer is not present at the precise time and
place of an assault does not give rise to an inference of negligence absent a
showing that officials had notice of a foreseeable dangerous situation. Colon
v State of New York
, 209 AD2d 842 (3d Dept. 1994); Padgett v State of New
, 163 AD2d 914 (4th Dept. 1990), lv denied,
76 NY2d 711
Additionally, the court must consider whether there was information which would
trigger any heightened awareness of a risk to this inmate - any "suspicious"
behavior - to alert correction personnel of danger brewing.
, Huertas v State of New York
, 84 AD2d 650
(3d Dept. 1981).
In this case, Claimant has testified that unknown fellow inmates attacked him
on March 11, 1999. He did not indicate that there had been prior incidents of
which the State was aware, or that he had any known enemies. The fact that
officers may not have been present at the precise time and place of the assault,
does not give rise to liability absent notice of a foreseeably dangerous
Colon v State of New York
; Padgett v State of New
. "...[U]nremitting supervision...." is not required.
Colon v State of New York
, at 844. When the
assault occurred, it appears to have been dealt with in a comprehensive and
appropriate fashion, and immediate medical care was
Based upon this record, without the requisite notice of the potential for harm,
Claimant has failed to establish
, that the subject assault was a foreseeable risk for which
the State should be held liable. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss,
upon which decision was reserved at trial, is hereby granted and Claim Number
100079 is dismissed in its entirety.
Let Judgement be entered accordingly.