New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HAYES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-019-017, Claim No. 98353


Claimant failed to sustain burden of proof that correction officers used excessive force in quelling inmate altercation. Correction Officers acted reasonably under circumstances presented; Claim dismissed.

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:
BY: James E. Shoemaker, Assistant Attorney General,of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 5, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, a
pro se inmate, brings this Claim alleging that he was unlawfully assaulted while in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services at Southport Correctional Facility on January 7, 1998. The trial of this Claim was held at the Elmira Correctional Facility on June 25, 2002.

Claimant testified that on or about January 7, 1998, he was taken from his cell to the draft room in preparation for transportation to St. Lawrence County for a county court appearance. Claimant testified that correction officers in the draft room would not allow him to wear his medically prescribed sneakers but rather insisted that he wear State issued sneakers for his court appearance. Claimant refused and an altercation ensued. During the course of the same, Claimant alleges he was injured in a fall suffering back pain and a bump on his head which required subsequent surgical intervention. Claimant alleges that he still suffers from pain as a result of the incident.

The State called several witnesses including various correction officers who were on duty in the draft room on January 7, 1998. The State's witnesses all testified that Inmate Hayes was being secured in a holding pen in the draft room in preparation for transport to St. Lawrence County. The inmate was told that if he was going to court he must wear State issued sneakers which the inmate refused to do. Sergeant Hubbard, working in the draft room, checked with the medical staff to ensure that there was no medical need for footwear other than State issued sneakers, and there was none. Inmate Hayes subsequently told the correction officers that when the restraints came off for his strip frisk he would assault the staff. Sergeant Hubbard made several more attempts to get Inmate Hayes to comply with the order to submit to a strip frisk in preparation for transport, but he refused and continued to make threats against the staff. Ultimately, the various correction officers did perform a strip frisk using physical force, pinning Inmate Hayes against the back wall of the holding pen while removing his clothing. The strip frisk was completed and Claimant was then dressed and turned over to the transportation unit for transport to St. Lawrence County without further incident.

Of particular note is, State's Exhibit A, an "ORDER TO PRODUCE" signed by St. Lawrence County Judge Eugene Nicandri, ordering the production of Claimant with "force as is necessary" to the County Court of St. Lawrence County on Friday, January 9, 1998 for a criminal proceeding. It was in preparation for transport to this very criminal proceeding that the foregoing altercation took place.

Correction officers are charged with the unenviable task of maintaining order and discipline in correctional facilities under stressful circumstances. (
Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212). It is well-settled that correction officers are entitled to use physical force in order to achieve this goal, but "[o]nly such degree of force as is reasonably required shall be used." (7 NYCRR 251-1.2 [b]). The limited circumstances in which the use of force is tolerated by correction officers are set forth as follows:
[a]n employee shall not lay hands on or strike an inmate unless the employee reasonably believes that the physical force to be used is reasonably necessary: for self-defense; to prevent injury to person or property; to enforce compliance with a lawful direction; to quell a disturbance; or to prevent an escape.

(7 NYCRR 251-1.2 [d]).

Moreover, in cases involving inmate allegations of excessive force by correction officers, such as here, the credibility of the respective witnesses is often the dispositive factor. (
Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234). As the trier of fact, the Court in this instance credits the testimony of Officers Gridley, Coleman, and Lieutenant Williams. Here, the credible evidence established that
Claimant disobeyed a direct order of the correction officers and in so doing acted in a direct and threatening manner. Claimant's indignant and combative attitude only aggravated the situation.
There was no credible evidence that officers used excessive force in responding to Claimant's behavior of refusing a direct order. To the contrary, the videotape of this incident stipulated into evidence by the parties at trial and viewed by the Court, shows the officers involved used reasonable restraint. In sum, the Court finds that the use of force in this case by the correction officers involved was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances with which they were confronted particularly in light of Judge Nicandri's Order to Produce (St. Ex. A) directing use of force as necessary.
The Court has no hesitation in concluding that Claimant here bears the sole responsibility for his own injuries, if any, as a result of his violent behavior.

Based on the foregoing, Claim No. 98353 is hereby DISMISSED.

All other motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined, are hereby denied.


August 5, 2002
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims