Claimant seeks damages for personal injuries sustained in two separate
inmate-on-inmate assaults which occurred while he was incarcerated at Auburn
Correctional Facility. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this decision
pertains solely to the issue of liability.
Claimant testified that the first incident occurred on January 14, 1999, just
outside the "industrial area"
of the furniture upholstery shop at Auburn Correctional Facility. At the
completion of his work day, claimant had just been released from the work area
to return to his cell when a fight ensued between claimant and another inmate in
the stairwell. Correction officers intervened, and the inmates were eventually
separated. During this altercation, claimant sustained a cut to his neck.
According to claimant's testimony, a box-cutter razor was found by one of the
correction officers near the stairs after this incident.
Inmate William Mejia was identified as the inmate who was involved in this
altercation with claimant. Following this incident, both claimant and inmate
Mejia were charged with violating facility rules, and after separate
disciplinary hearings, each was found guilty of misconduct. Claimant was
sentenced to 60 days of keeplock, which restricted him to his cell except for
limited periods of recreation.
The second incident occurred on January 21, 1999, while claimant was still
restricted to his keeplock status. That morning
, claimant was admitted to the keeplock recreation area with about four or five
other inmates. Claimant testified that the procedures for searching inmates are
more stringent for inmates on keeplock status, but on this day correction
officers failed to use a wand-type metal detector to search claimant prior to
his entry into the recreation area. In support of this contention, claimant
testified that he wore his wristwatch in the recreation area on this date, but
that on the five prior days, while he was on keeplock, he had been searched and
had to remove his wristwatch prior to entering the recreation area.
While in the process of exercising, another inmate walked up to claimant from
behind and cut him in the face, necessitating medical treatment.
Correction Officer Mark J. Sullivan was on duty in the keeplock recreation area
on the day of the January 21
incident, and actually witnessed this assault against claimant. He testified
that he observed inmate Christopher Solis walk up to claimant from behind and
cut him in the face. He then observed inmate Solis drop his weapon in the snow.
After this incident, Correction Officer Sullivan recovered a box-cutter-type
razor, wrapped in electrical tape, in the location where he had observed inmate
Solis drop it. Correction Officer Sullivan remarked that inmate Solis made no
attempt to conceal his actions, or his identity, while carrying out this
Furthermore, after the first altercation with inmate Mejia, claimant was
offered protective custody status, but declined as he did not believe he was at
risk from any further assault. Claimant conceded that he had been involved in
other altercations at other correctional facilities during his period of
incarceration. Claimant testified that he did not have any problems with either
inmate Mejia or inmate Solis prior to these assaults.
Defendant offered into evidence claimant's interview form completed upon his
reception at Auburn Correctional Facility, in which claimant stated, in effect,
that he had no known enemies at the facility (see defendant's Exhibit A).
It is claimant's contention that the State failed to provide adequate
supervision of its inmates, thus permitting these assaults to occur on two
separate occasions, and that the State was negligent by failing to detect the
weapons utilized in each assault. Furthermore, with regard to the second
incident, claimant apparently also alleges that the defendant violated facility
policy by permitting inmates who were restricted to keeplock status to enter the
recreation yard without being adequately searched.
It is well settled that the State is required to use reasonable care to protect
inmates of its correctional facilities from the foreseeable risk of harm (see
Flaherty v State of New York
, 296 NY 342; Dizak v State of New
, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State of New York
, 112 AD2d 562).
Foreseeable risk of harm includes the risk of attack by other prisoners (see
Littlejohn v State of New York
, 218 AD2d 833). The duty to protect
inmates from the risk of attack by other prisoners, however, does not render the
State an insurer of inmate safety (see Sanchez v State of New York
NY2d 247). The scope of the defendant's duty of care is to exercise reasonable
care to prevent attacks which are reasonably foreseeable (Sanchez v State of
). The test for liability has evolved from the strict
requirement of specific knowledge to encompass not only what the State knew, but
also "what the State reasonably should have known
- for example, from its
knowledge of risks to a class of inmates based on the institution's expertise or
prior experience, or from its own policies and practices designed to address
such risks" (Sanchez v State of New York
at 254 [emphasis
in original]). Accordingly, "[t]he mere occurrence of an inmate assault,
without credible evidence that the assault was reasonably foreseeable, cannot
establish the negligence of the state" (Sanchez v State of New York
In this particular matter, claimant presented no evidence that he was known to
be at risk of assault or attack prior to either of the two incidents. As set
forth previously herein, upon his arrival at Auburn Correctional Facility in
December, 1998, claimant had indicated that he had no known enemies and no need
for protection. Additionally, claimant testified at trial that he did not have
any problems with either inmate Mejia or inmate Solis prior to the separate
altercations involving these inmates. Claimant even testified that after the
incident involving inmate Mejia, he refused protective custody, providing the
State with no basis whatsoever to foresee that claimant was potentially subject
to further attack.
Furthermore, there was no evidence to establish that either inmate Mejia or
inmate Solis were particularly prone to perpetrating an assault prior to their
respective attacks upon claimant.
In sum, there was no credible evidence presented at trial to establish that
either assault against claimant was reasonably foreseeable, or that the State
failed to exercise adequate care to prevent either assault.
As mentioned above, claimant apparently also contends that the State failed to
adequately search his assailants, and that the State's failure to detect the
weapons concealed by both inmates was a proximate cause of the injuries suffered
by him in these assaults.
With respect to the incident which occurred on January 14, 1999 outside the
industrial upholstery shop, Correction Officer Kevin Baker testified on behalf
of the State. He testified that he was on duty at this location at the time of
the incident, and that pursuant to established procedures, all inmates were
frisked as they left the shop that day. Claimant presented no evidence that
established procedures were not followed, or that such procedures were
unreasonable, with regard to this incident.
With regard to the second incident, however, claimant testified that correction
officers failed to follow established facility procedures in searching inmates
restricted to keeplock status. As set forth above, claimant testified that
correction officers failed to use a metal detector to search claimant prior to
his entry into the recreation area, and that, by inference, they failed to use a
metal detector to search all other inmates. According to claimant, this breach
of proper protocol provided his assailant with the opportunity to smuggle a
knife into the recreation area which he then used against claimant.
As mentioned above, Correction Officer Sullivan was on duty in the keeplock
recreation area on that date and witnessed the attack against claimant. He
testified that there were numerous wand metal detectors available to the guards
on that date, and that they were in proper operating condition. He also
testified that the standard operating procedures at the facility required the
use of these metal detectors to search all inmates prior to their entry into the
keeplock recreation yard. He testified that these procedures were implemented
as much to protect the correction officers working in the area as to protect the
Furthermore, Correction Officer Sullivan testified that it is a common practice
in correctional facilities for inmates to attempt to avoid wand detection of
weapons by wrapping a knife in electrical tape, and concealing this weapon
inside a body cavity. He admitted that while an assault of this nature in the
keeplock recreation area is rare, they have occurred on occasion in situations
when an inmate has somehow been able to avoid detection of his weapon.
Based on the testimony presented, the Court does not find that any violation of
facility procedures on the date of this incident was established. Even if the
Court were to accept claimant's testimony that he was not searched prior to his
entry into the keeplock recreation yard, claimant has presented absolutely no
evidence to suggest that the other inmates in the yard, and in particular,
claimant's assailant, were not properly searched on that day. The mere fact
that claimant's assailant successfully smuggled a prohibited weapon into the
keeplock recreation yard is not sufficient, in and of itself, to cast liability
against the State.
Accordingly, based upon the foregoing, the Court finds that claimant has failed
to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the injuries
suffered by him in either incident were the result of defendant's negligent
supervision or failure to abide by established and reasonable facility
procedures. There was no evidence presented that either assault was reasonably
Therefore, this claim must be, and hereby is, dismissed.
All motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.