New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SANCHEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-030-010, Claim No. 105572


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:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 8, 2004
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Edward Sanchez, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 105572 that Defendant's agents used excessive force and assaulted him while he was in the custody and control of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS) incarcerated at Downstate Correctional Facility (hereafter Downstate). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on February 27, 2004.

Claimant testified that he was assaulted by "numerous officers at Downstate . . . on November 8, 2001."[1]
He recalled that he was on the way to see an eye doctor as part of new inmate processing procedures, standing in line awaiting completion of procedures to see medical personnel, but he "couldn't stand because . . . [his] knee was hurting him." Claimant asked Officer Delgado if he could sit down, but was refused, with the officer making a "smart remark like ‘what do you want me to do, carry you?' or something like that, so . . . [he] sucked . . . [his] teeth[2] at . . . [the officer]." Thereafter, the officer asked Claimant for his identification card - which Claimant gave to the officer - and asked him where he "locked." Claimant indicated he didn't know where he locked, because he had only arrived the night before from Rikers Island, and told the officer that he would "have to find it out on his own." Claimant noted that the officer might have taken this as a sign of disrespect, since immediately thereafter Claimant was told to get off the line, and "walk a certain way." As Claimant was going down the staircase in the direction he had been told to walk, the officer pushed him up against the wall, face first. When Claimant turned around to ask why the officer did that, the officer "swang at . . . [Claimant] and started hitting . . . [him] with the night stick, called for assistance, and then numerous other officers came along." Claimant alleged that they "just beat . . . [him] up."
On cross-examination, Claimant conceded he was issued a misbehavior report as a result of the incident charging him with assaulting staff, and refusing a direct order. He was found guilty of the charges, and served an 18 month penalty. The finding and disposition was affirmed administratively, but no judicial review was sought.

No further witnesses testified on Claimant's direct case, and no evidence was submitted.

Correction Officer Delgado testified that on November 8, 2001 he was the "building five groundsman," patrolling building five where all preliminary medical procedures for the new inmates are done. He said he was walking through the "square area," where over 100 inmates were congregated for different medical procedures, when he observed Officer McCants - who had been assigned to the square to direct the inmate movement - arguing with the Claimant. The witness stopped to see what was going on, and overheard the correction officer telling Claimant that he must follow all directions given to him by correction officers, but the Claimant began speaking with another inmate, and ignored Officer McCants. Officer McCants asked Claimant if he understood what she was saying, but Claimant was observed continuing to ignore the correction officer.

At that point, Correction Officer Delgado approached Claimant, and tried to gain his attention, but although he looked at the officer briefly, the Claimant ignored Officer Delgado as well, and continued talking with the other inmate. Groups of inmates were standing in the area. Correction Officer Delgado then told Claimant he had to listen to direct orders from all staff members, and told him to "get back in the line." The witness testified that the Claimant then said "I have to shout out to my people man." Officer Delgado again told him to get back in line and follow directions. Claimant got back in the line, and then said to a fellow inmate "Man, I don't have time for this bull****."

The whole line of inmates was starting to get agitated then; the medical staff was starting to be aware of "everyone getting jittery so they were starting to lose concentration," so rather than speak to Claimant again, Officer Delgado called the area supervisor to describe the behavior Claimant was engaging in on the square, and was instructed to remove the inmate from the square, and return him to his cell.

Officer Delgado then approached Claimant, and asked for and received Claimant's identification card. When Officer Delgado asked Claimant where he locked, Claimant responded by saying "you're so f ****ing smart, you figure it out yourself." Officer Delgado said he "stood back from . . . [Claimant] for a few minutes, went and found his officer" and advised him that Claimant was being returned to his cell as per the area supervisor's instructions. Officer Delgado went to Claimant saying "you have to come with me," to which Claimant replied "where we going?" Officer Delgado said "come with me and I will explain it to you." He took him to the side where there were no inmates, and stated "I have to take you back to your unit." Claimant inquired "why", and was told "you are being a little disruptive up here, we will have to continue this later."

When they were by the stairway beyond the square area, Claimant stopped, and asked again "where are you taking me?" Officer Delgado said "back to your unit." Claimant started to move again, and then turned around to the officer and said "I ain't going no f****ing where" and struck Officer Delgado in the chest with his right hand. The officer stepped back one or two steps "absorbing the shock," and then "rushed" Claimant and "grabbed him around the waist, trying to get him down on the floor to restrict him." Officer Delgado then realized there was another officer behind him - he hadn't been able to see because his face was "in . . . [Claimant's] chest - who then assisted in getting the Claimant onto the floor. Correction Officer Alston and he then tried to get Claimant on his stomach, so that they could place the handcuffs on his back - the procedure for restraining a prisoner. Since they were at the edge of the stairway however, the Claimant then grabbed the railings, and all three fell down the stairs to the first landing.

When they got to the first landing, they were still trying to get control, but Claimant was "fighting and kicking violently." They managed to get one handcuff on, when Claimant again grabbed the railing, and they fell to the second landing. Officer Delgado got on the radio, and "called a ‘red dot,'[3]
giving . . . [his] location to headquarters." They were able to secure Claimant with handcuffs on the bottom landing. When the response team arrived, Claimant was in handcuffs, against the wall. In addition to the response team officers, the Sergeant had arrived in the meantime, and Correction Officer Delgado and Correction Officer Alston were instructed to go to the medical unit, and told that the response team and the Sergeant would "take it from there." Except for writing up the misbehavior report concerning the incident, that was Officer Delgado's last involvement with the Claimant. [See Exhibit A]. He himself suffered only minor bruises.
Correction Officer Alston also testified, essentially confirming the version of events described by Correction Officer Delgado. He stated that on November 8, 2001 he was escort officer at Downstate and happened to be in the square area when he heard "loud, boisterous talking . . . belligerent, agitated talking between . . . [Claimant] and various officers." He went to the area of the noise to see if he could offer any assistance. At that point, he learned that Correction Officer Delgado was going to remove the prisoner from the area upon the supervisor's advice, and the witness assumed that "because of the size disparity between Officer Delgado and

. . . [Claimant], another officer would be walking with him." When the witness saw Officer Delgado and the Claimant walking down the hallway, he realized that Officer Delgado "was going to be doing the escort by himself and that the inmate was agitated, so . . . [Officer Alston] fell in step behind them." As Officer Alston went down the hallway, and as he was turning the corner to the stairways, he noticed the inmate strike a blow toward Officer Delgado in the officer's chest area. Officer Alston then "closed . . . [his] distance" to assist Officer Delgado.
When Officer Alston approached the two men, the inmate struck out at him as well, and he was able to grab his arm, and began the struggle to get Claimant to the ground and handcuff him. He reported that once one handcuff was on, Claimant then grabbed the railing, and pulled all three down the stairs. At the first landing, attempts to handcuff the inmate continued, and Claimant grabbed the railing again, and the three men went down to the second landing, where the officers were then able to turn him over and get the handcuffs on. Normal procedure followed, he said, in that he and Officer Delgado were relieved, and other officers escorted the inmate to medical. Officer Alston suffered minor bruises.

The physical examination of Claimant reported as part of the investigation of the incident shows injuries consistent with the version of events presented by the correction officers. [Exhibit A].

No other witnesses testified, and no other evidence was submitted.

Use of physical force against an inmate is governed by statute, regulation, and the attendant case law. The statute provides in pertinent part ". . . [w]hen any inmate . . . shall offer violence to any person, . . . or resist or disobey any lawful direction, the officers and employees shall use all suitable means to defend themselves, to maintain order, to enforce observation of discipline,[and] to secure the persons of the offenders . . . " Correction Law §137(5). As set forth at 7 NYCRR § 251-1.2 (a), an officer must use " . . . [t]he greatest caution and conservative judgment . . . in determining . . . whether physical force is necessary; and . . . the degree of such force that is necessary." Once an officer determines that physical force must be used, ". . . only such degree of force as is reasonably required shall be used." 7 NYCRR § 251-1.2(b). The State may be liable for the use of excessive force by its employee under the concept of
respondeat superior. See Jones v State of New York, 33 NY2d 275, 279 (1973); Court of Claims Act §8.
To assess 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). Often the credibility of witnesses will be a critical factor in these determinations (Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234; . . . citation omitted)." Kosinski v. State of New York, Claim No 97581 (November 30, 2000, Sise, J.).
Resolution of this claim primarily rests upon the relative credibility of the Claimant and Correction Officers Delgado and Alston. After careful consideration, and after observing the demeanor of witnesses as they testified, the Court credits the more internally consistent testimony of the correction officers, and does not find the Claimant's version of events credible. Although it was his burden to establish his claim by a preponderance of the credible evidence, Claimant has failed to do so, particularly in light of what would appear to be a highly selective recall of the events leading up to the attempts to restrain him by the correction officers. Resolving issues of credibility is the province of this Court as the trier of fact.
LeGrand v. State of New York, 195 AD2d 784 (3d Dept 1993), lv denied 82 NY2d 663 (1993).
The use of force report filed by the officers involved [
See 7 NYCRR § 251-1.3] shows that a contemporaneous record was made, consistent with the testimony the officers gave at trial. [See Exhibit A]. There was no evidence, other than the self-serving testimony of the Claimant, that any excessive force was used by correction officers. Indeed, even the version presented by Claimant, in which he is cast in the role of unsuspecting victim, primarily describes physical actions taken by the correction officers consistent with standard "take-down" maneuvers. No medical evidence was submitted to substantiate injury, and thus no other objective information has been presented to the Court to support the claim. The amount of force used was what was reasonably necessary to restrain an otherwise agitated and belligerent inmate. Once Claimant was restrained with Officer Alston's help, there was no additional force used beyond that necessary to restrain and handcuff him. C.f. Lewis v State of New York, supra.
Accordingly, Claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that excessive physical force was used on him by correction officers.

Claim number 105572 is hereby dismissed in its entirety.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

April 8, 2004
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.
[2] As demonstrated by the Claimant, essentially a "tsking" type of noise with teeth bared: half spit, half snarl.
[3] A "red dot" was explained as an "emergency call for aid."