New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CRENSHAW v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-019-008, Claim No. 98862


Synopsis


Case Information

UID:
2004-019-008
Claimant(s):
WILLIAM CRENSHAW The court has sua sponte amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
CRENSHAW
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The court has sua sponte amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
98862
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Claimant's attorney:
WILLIAM CRENSHAW, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 10, 2004
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant, William Crenshaw, a pro se inmate, brings this claim alleging he was injured while incarcerated at the Elmira Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Facility") due to the negligent supervision of the prison population by correction officers employed by the State Department of Correctional Services, when he was injured as a result of a fight with another inmate which occurred at said Facility. The bifurcated trial of this claim took place on February 17, 2004 at said Facility. Consequently, this decision addresses the issue of liability only.


On June 8, 1998, claimant was working as assigned in Mess Hall 4 of the Facility. Claimant testified that an argument broke out between himself and another inmate by the name of Gene Baker. As claimant stated, Baker believed that the claimant had shot one of Baker's friends in the Rochester, New York area. Claimant testified that after the evening meal on June 8, 1998 he and Baker got into an argument. Approximately one-half hour to forty-five minutes later, claimant testified that Baker attacked him with a broom, striking him over the head. Claimant testified that the fight lasted approximately five to ten minutes before correction officers arrived in Mess Hall 4. Claimant testified that at the time the fight broke out there were no correction officers stationed in Mess Hall 4 and that there were approximately 30 inmates assigned to the mess hall area, present and unsupervised. As a result of the altercation, claimant sustained a cut to his head which took approximately four stitches to close.


Claimant attempted to offer into evidence at trial Exhibit 1 which was a letter dated April 23, 1998 written approximately 1 1/2 months prior to this incident in which he requested either a transfer or protective custody from Inmate Gene Baker. Claimant stated that this letter was sent to the Superintendent of the Facility but that he had received no response. The State objected to the offer of this letter claiming the same to be a fabrication and further claiming that the letter had not properly been disclosed prior to trial in response to demands made by the State during pre-trial discovery. At trial the court reserved on the State's objection to the receipt of the document.


On cross-examination claimant admitted that he subsequently was charged at a Tier 2 hearing on June 12, 1998 with fighting and received a thirty-day sentence in the Special Housing Unit for the same. Claimant further admitted on cross-examination that there was no mention at his Tier 2 hearing of this earlier letter dated April 23, 1998 complaining of a need for either a transfer or protection from Inmate Baker. The claimant rested, and the State moved to dismiss upon which the court reserved.

On the State's direct case, it called Correction Officer Alan Tweed and Correction Officer Robert Howe. Correction Officer Tweed testified that on that date he received notice of a disturbance in Mess Hall 4 from Correction Officer Howe and responded. He stated that he observed an altercation taking place in Mess Hall 4 and that upon arrival he and Correction Officer Howe broke up the fight between claimant and Inmate Baker. The witness had no other real recollection of the events, other than simply to state that Mess Hall 4 was not his assigned post but that he simply responded to the incident and the call for assistance related thereto.


Correction Officer Howe testified that on the date of the incident he was assigned to the Mess Hall corridor. Upon looking into Mess Hall 4, the officer saw the claimant and Baker fighting and stated that there had been no prior disturbance in the mess hall and to his knowledge no prior problems between the two inmates. At the time he looked into Mess Hall 4 he noticed both inmates exchanging blows and he immediately "pulled his pin" and received a response to the call within ten seconds. He and Correction Officer Tweed broke up the fight, frisked the inmates and found no weapons. It was only after the fight had been broken up that the correction officer learned that Inmate Baker used a broom as a weapon against the claimant. He stated that no correction officer was in fact posted in Mess Hall 4 at that time and that he just happened to look into Mess Hall 4 and observed the incident taking place.


On cross-examination of both the officers, the claimant established that the correction officer assigned to Mess Hall 4 apparently was not at his post at the time. Moreover, the State failed to produce at trial the Mess Hall 4 officer who should have been assigned to supervise the 20 to 30 inmates who were present in the mess hall at the time the incident broke out.


It is well settled that the State owes a duty of care to safeguard inmates, a duty which includes prevention of attacks from fellow inmates. That having been said, however, this duty does not transform the State into an insurer of inmate safety. (
Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247). Rather, in order to establish liability in an inmate assault case, claimant must demonstrate one of the following: (1) the State knew or should have known that claimant was at risk of being assaulted and yet failed to provide reasonable protection; (2) the State knew or should have known that the assailant was prone to perpetrating such an assault and the State did not take proper precautionary measures; or (3) the State had ample notice and opportunity to intervene but did not act. (Id.).

With regard to the first two elements noted above, whether the State knew or should have known that the claimant was at risk of being assaulted and yet failed to provide reasonable protection and whether the State knew or should have known the assailant was prone to perpetrating such an assault and did not take proper precautionary measures, the court is satisfied that claimant's Exhibit 1 does allow claimant to establish a prima facie case with regard to those two elements. If admitted into evidence, Exhibit 1 would in fact show that the State knew or should have known that the claimant was at risk of being assaulted by this particular inmate and that the State knew or should have known that the assailant Gene Baker was prone to perpetrating such an assault on an inmate and yet did not take proper precautionary measures requested by the claimant some six weeks before this incident. That having been said however, the court does not understand why, if in fact this letter existed some six weeks prior to the incident, the claimant failed to produce the same in response to a proper discovery demand served upon him by the State months in advance of this trial. Additionally, the court also finds curious the claimant's failure to mention the existence of this letter or to produce the same at his own disciplinary hearing which occurred only four days after this assault. Certainly, if the document in fact had existed at that time, the claimant would have either produced it at his disciplinary hearing or complained and testified as to the existence of the same. As a result, the court is not satisfied that this letter in fact existed some six weeks prior to the assault which forms the basis of this claim. More importantly, even if the letter did exist the claimant has failed to properly disclose the same in advance of trial. As a result, this letter will not be accepted into evidence by the court and will not be considered in the court's determination of this claim on its merits. (CPLR § 3126).


That having been said, the last issue which the court must examine based upon the proof presented at trial is whether or not the State had ample notice and opportunity to intervene but did not act to prevent the occurrence of this disturbance. From the testimony presented the court is satisfied that the claimant has established a prima facie case that for whatever reason the correction officer normally stationed in Mess Hall 4 was not present at the time of this disturbance. Both Correction Officer Tweed and Correction Officer Howe testified that Mess Hall 4 was not their station and that no correction officer was present in Mess Hall 4 at the time this disturbance took place. Both witnesses called by the State testified simply that they were not assigned to Mess Hall 4 at the time the altercation occurred, but rather had other posts and responded simply to quell the disturbance. The court credits the claimant's testimony that a correction officer is normally stationed in the mess hall during this period of time, and logic would dictate that the Facility would not leave 20 to 30 inmates unsupervised for any length of time in the mess hall area. As such, it was incumbent upon the State to produce either for the claimant's benefit or on the State's own case the mess hall officer present, or who should have been present, at the time the altercation broke out, or to explain the absence of such a correction officer from the mess hall for such a period of time to allow this disturbance to reach the proportion that it did, resulting in injury to the claimant. Furthermore, the State could have, but failed to, produce at trial any institutional document or outline to show that a correction officer is not posted at Mess Hall 4 during the period of time the mess hall is in use. The State's failure to do so results in its failure to rebut the proof presented by claimant at trial either on his direct or through the cross-examination of the correction officers produced by the State on its case. As the court sees the circumstances, the absence of any correction officer from Mess Hall 4 at the time the disturbance broke out falls below the duty of care owed to inmates to supervise the general population including prevention of inmate upon inmate attacks.


Based upon the foregoing, the court finds the State 100% liable to the claimant for any injuries suffered by the claimant as a result of this attack.

The court will set this matter down for trial on the issue of damages as soon as practicable.


LET INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

May 10, 2004
Binghamton, New York

HON. FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Judge of the Court of Claims