New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MARTINEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-013-505, Claim No. 98084


Prisoner's claim alleging that he was assaulted by correction officers is dismissed after trial on the ground that his account of events was not credible.

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):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: JAMES L. GELORMINI, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 7, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant alleges that on April 3, 1997, while he was incarcerated at Orleans Correctional Facility, he was assaulted by several correction officers.

At trial, Claimant testified that while he was on his way into the facility gymnasium, he was approached by Correction Officer Cuddy, who indicated that he wanted to conduct a pat frisk. Because Claimant was carrying contraband, he ran from the officer out of the building. He estimated that he got about thirty yards from the building before, having thrown away the contraband, when he slowed down and Officer Cuddy was able to catch him. He stated that the officer shoulder tackled him on his right side and he fell on the ground. Another officer, Sgt. Marshall, then came over and placed restraints on him. Three officers -- who Claimant believes were Chudy, Peterson and Prentice -- then lifted him up and began escorting him to the Special Housing Unit (SHU). When later questioned on this point, Claimant confirmed that Sgt. Marshall did not take part in events after handcuffing Claimant. In fact, according to Claimant, what occurred next would not have happened in the presence of a "rank officer."

As he was being escorted to the prison infirmary, a necessary step before being taken to SHU, the largest of the three officers, who was either Peterson or Prentice, began pushing his hands up high behind his head, while another officer kicked Claimant in his back and back of his legs. As they approached the infirmary, the larger of the officers told Claimant to "watch out for the door," and then proceeded to ram his head against the corner of the brick doorway, causing a laceration in the area of Claimant's eye. Once he was inside the room, the officer again smashed his head against a wall. Claimant was then placed in a corner, where he was to wait to be seen by medical staff. While he was there, Claimant stated, his head was again smacked and the larger officer punched him several times. At that point, Claimant stated, he was feeling dazed and asked for some water. After drinking it, he felt even more dazed, and stated that he had to be held in order for his picture to be taken. From that point on, Claimant says that he does not remember much but knows that he was taken to an outside hospital. He received stitches in the area of his eye; x-rays were taken; and other tests performed.

On cross-examination, Claimant was asked about the surface that he fell on when he was tackled by Officer Chudy, and he said that it was grass. He also reiterated that when his head was slammed into the brick wall, he was struck near his right eye, causing bleeding. As he entered the building, his head was again slammed into a meshed gate formed by thick wire boxes, approximately three inches square, and then three or four more times after he was placed in the corner.

Pictures were taken of Claimant in the infirmary after he was treated by medical staff (Exhibits B - G), and they show a laceration near Claimant's right eye just below the outer corner, and contusions on his right temple and right shoulder. The facility medical records (Exhibit J) indicate that the cut near his eye was 3/16". They also indicate that while he was being treated, he became pale and unresponsive for approximately fifteen minutes, and it was apparently for this reason that he was transferred to an outside hospital. Records from Medina Memorial Hospital (
see, Exhibit J), show no evidence of fracture in the area of his head or right shoulder.
Officer Christopher Chudy testified for Defendant. He stated that he originally stopped Claimant because he arrived at the gym past the time allowed for inmate movement. Immediately before Claimant ran, Chudy had instructed him to submit to a pat frisk. Officer Chudy agreed that when Claimant fell the grass area on which Claimant fell was very hard, almost gravelly. Officer Chudy denied executing a shoulder tackle but, instead, grabbed his waist to bring him to the ground. Claimant continued to struggle for a minute or so until Sgt. Marshall arrived and cuffed him. Officer Chudy did not accompany the other officers who escorted Claimant to the infirmary but, rather, stayed behind and located the contraband -- a razor -- that Claimant had been carrying.

Sgt. Marshall testified that he was in the nearby visiting room when he received notification that there was an officer in pursuit. He stepped outside and saw the chase involving Claimant and Officer Chudy. When he arrived at the location where they were on the ground, he observed Claimant continuing to struggle. He agreed with Officer Chudy that the ground in the area where claimant fell was quite gravelly. Contrary to Claimant's account, Sgt. Marshall testified that he stayed in Claimant's presence and, walking behind the officers physically escorting Claimant, had him in his view for the entire time, from the point that he was handcuffed until his transfer to an outside hospital. Marshall stated unequivocally that, aside from the initial use of force in stopping Claimant's flight and getting him handcuffed, no further injury was inflicted on him. Claimant's head was not struck against the brick doorway or the mesh gateway, and he was not struck or punched while held in the corner waiting for medical personnel to see him.

Use of physical force against an inmate of the State prison system is permitted "[w]hen any inmate... shall offer violence to any person,... or resist or disobey any lawful direction" (Correction Law §137 [5]). In applying force an officer must use "[t]he greatest caution and conservative judgment ... in determining... whether physical force is necessary" (7 NYCRR §251-1.2[a]), and he or she may use "...only such degree of force as is reasonably required shall be used" (7 NYCRR § 251-1.2[b]). To determine whether force was necessary, or whether the particular degree of force used was reasonable, a Court must examine the particular factual background and the circumstances confronting the officers or guards (
see, e.g., Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800; Quillen v State of New York, 191 AD2d 31; Brown v State of New
York, 24 Misc 2d 358). Frequently, the credibility of witnesses will be a critical factor in these determinations (Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234).
Claimant does not contend that the force used to stop his flight or to apply handcuffs on him was unnecessary or inapproptiate. It is the subsequent behavior of which he complains that gives rise to this claim. With respect to those events, the two witnesses who were present at that time -- Claimant and Sgt. Marshall -- presented absolutely contradictory testimony. According to Marshall, nothing inappropriate or out of the ordinary happened when Claimant was escorted to the infirmary; according to Claimant, his head was slammed against walls and doors, his nose began bleeding, and he was punched repeatedly. While I cannot say that either witness struck me as incredible, I did notice more conflicting facts in Claimant's testimony than in Sgt. Marshall's. The most probative evidence, however, are the pictures taken shortly after the alleged assault occurred. The injuries shown on Claimant's face and shoulder, while visible, are consistent with injuries that he might have suffered after being thrown down and held on a surface composed of grass and gravel. It is inconceivable, however, that he would have suffered so little injury if, as he claims, Claimant had had his head slammed against the point of brick wall, a wire mesh door, and a concrete wall.

Claimant has failed to establish, by a preponderance of credible evidence, that the injuries he suffered on April 3, 1997 resulted from wrongful conduct on the part of the State, and the claim is therefore dismissed.

All motions not heretofore ruled upon are now denied.


February 7, 2002
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims