New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BOWERS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-019-019, Claim No. 98742


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:
July 30, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, a
pro se inmate, brings this Claim alleging he was unlawfully assaulted while in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services (hereinafter "DOCS"), at Southport Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Facility"), on June 5, 1998. The trial of this Claim was held at the Elmira Correctional Facility on June 25, 2002.

At trial Claimant testified that on June 5, 1998 at approximately 10:00 a.m., he was being returned to his cell. He was pat frisked by several correction officers and then was being escorted back to his cell. When he got to his cell he was tripped from behind by the correction officers and fell into his cell. He testified that three correction officers then applied punches and kicks to him while he was on the floor. Claimant stated that he was placed in waist chains and shackled, and carried to the shower area where he was thrown onto the shower floor on his face. As a result of this assault, Claimant alleges he suffered various lacerations and abrasions.

On cross-examination Claimant admitted he was being taken to the Special Housing Unit (hereinafter "‘SHU") exercise area and when he was being uncuffed he assaulted one of the correction officers, namely Correction Officer Richard Augustine. Claimant subsequently was indicted for assaulting Officer Augustine and convicted of assault second degree.

The State called Correction Officer Richard Augustine, a fourteen year veteran of DOCS who was employed at the Facility on the date of this incident. The witness testified that he was taking Claimant out of SHU for exercise and had Claimant in the frisking area where he was being unshackled, unhandcuffed, and waist chain being taken off in preparation for his exercise session. When Office Augustine removed the waist chain from the Claimant, the Claimant turned and using both hands, still in handcuffs, struck Officer Augustine on the head, resulting in injury to the officer.

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 a correction officer, 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 Officer Augustine. Here, the credible evidence established that Claimant instigated an attack on these officers and that their actions were in direct response to Claimant's own violent conduct. There was no credible evidence that Officers used excessive force in responding to Claimant's behavior. 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.

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 upon the foregoing, it is incredulous that this Claimant could now claim that unlawful force was used against him by other correction officers who came to the aid and defense of Officer Augustine. Moreover, the Court finds Claimant's account of this incident totally lacking in credibility. This Claim is totally devoid of any merit whatsoever.

Accordingly, Claim No. 98742 is hereby DISMISSED.

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


July 30, 2002
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims