New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CASTILLA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-030-009, Claim No. 107997


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:
May 2, 2005
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Victor Castilla alleges in Claim Number 107997 that Defendant's agents failed to protect him from an assault by a fellow inmate while he was incarcerated at Downstate Correctional Facility (hereafter Downstate) in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS). Specifically he alleges that Dominick Antonaccio, his co-defendant in an unrelated criminal case, assaulted him on October 9, 2000, and that Defendant's agents knew or should have known that Mr. Antonaccio posed a risk to Claimant's safety and failed to take appropriate steps to avoid that risk. Trial on the issue of liability alone was held on March 8, 2005.

Claimant testified that in October 2000, he had known Dominick Antonaccio for approximately four years, based upon their shared neighborhood in Astoria, New York, and their joint participation in two house burglaries in Nassau County for which they were charged, and ultimately convicted. Claimant recalled that Antonaccio had been arrested first. While awaiting trial, both Claimant and Antonaccio were housed at Nassau County Correctional Facility, but never in the same housing area.

With his own attorney present, and in the presence of Antonaccio and his attorney, Claimant pled guilty to the charges lodged against him. Antonaccio pled guilty in Claimant's presence as well. In September 2000, Claimant was sentenced to 3 ½ years to be served in DOCS custody. Claimant recalled that while he and Mr. Antonaccio were in the courtroom he felt angry toward Antonaccio, and concluded that the feeling was reciprocated based upon the ". . . tension, mean looks, staring at each other . . . "[1]
Claimant was transported from Nassau County Correctional Facility to Downstate on October 2, 2000. Antonaccio was on the same bus. Claimant saw "Dominick in the waiting room with 5 or 6 Spanish guys looking at me, a few of them were looking at me, I could hear the guys talking to each [other], and I know they're gang members, because they were calling each other ‘hermanito' which is from a Spanish gang called ‘nieta'. . . I knew there was going to be trouble." Claimant testified that he is 5 feet, 9 inches tall, and, in October 2000, he weighed approximately 130 pounds. In contrast, Antonaccio in October 2000, was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds.

After completing reception procedures at Downstate, Claimant was sent to his housing unit 2-A, and to an individual cell. He did not advise any correctional personnel at reception or at his housing unit that Mr. Antonaccio's presence was of concern to him.

When Claimant was called out for breakfast the following morning, he "saw Antonaccio 3 persons ahead of . . . [him] in the chow line." Claimant confirmed that the chow line would consist only of persons in his own housing unit. Correction Officer Green accompanied the chow line that morning. Claimant did not say anything to Officer Green about seeing Antonaccio on the chow line, or that seeing him was a concern.

About two days after his arrival at Downstate, on October 4, 2000, Carmen Diaz, a correction counselor, interviewed Claimant. The whole housing unit, or "between 15 and 20 people" to his recollection, were called to be interviewed. Antonaccio was one of those people being interviewed. Claimant's interview took place in a "little office, about three doors down from where all the inmates were waiting to see the counselor." The interview was conducted behind "closed doors."

At the interview, he recalled speaking in Spanish to Ms. Diaz since she "had pronounced

. . . [his] name in Spanish," and told her that ". . . that was . . . [his] co-defendant there in the room" and that he wished to not be in the same housing unit as Antonaccio, that there was animosity between them, "a lot of mean looks and stares, and that the more they leave us together, the more animosity is going to build and something's going to happen." Claimant requested that either he, or Mr. Antonaccio, be moved. Ms. Diaz appeared to be writing something as he spoke. The interview lasted about 15 minutes.
After the interview, and until October 9, 2000 Claimant and Mr. Antonaccio remained in the same housing unit and nothing happened between them. During recreation on October 9, 2000, between approximately 9:00 to 10:00 a.m., Claimant passed Antonaccio who was sitting with his friends. Claimant testified that he "knew they were gang members." Claimant heard Antonaccio "mumble ‘you snitch' " - presumably directed at Claimant - and Claimant then turned around to look at him "very meanly, and told him ‘no, you're the snitch,' and then went to sit right in front of . . . [Officer] Green, who was sitting in the bubble in the t.v. area."

About 15 minutes later, "Dominick came from behind and punched . . . [Claimant] in the head on the right side." Claimant fell to the floor, got up, looked and saw that it had been Antonaccio who had struck him. Antonaccio then grabbed him, "continued to manhandle . . . [him] toward the bubble, the glass where . . .[Officer] Green's behind, trying to bang . . . [Claimant's] head on the glass." Claimant said that as he would move away, Antonaccio would keep pushing him against the glass. Claimant "spun around" and fell on both of his knees. Antonaccio continued to punch him on the head and the ribs, until the fight broke up and correction officers came in. He was taken for medical treatment complaining of pain in his knees.

After October 9, 2000, Claimant did not see Mr. Antonaccio again.

On cross-examination Claimant confirmed he had not told anyone at Nassau County Correctional Facility of potential problems with Antonaccio. He acknowledged that a custodial transfer form from Nassau County Correctional Facility - which he had seen before - did not indicate that he had any enemies. [Exhibit 1]. Upon arrival at Downstate on October 2, 2000, Claimant agreed he did not tell anyone during his initial processing that he had any enemies, even though he was asked, and even though he was aware that Antonaccio had been on the bus with him. Claimant said: "In front of all the inmates I said ‘no.'" Indeed, the Downstate reception form from Claimant's initial processing indicates "no significant security problems . . . ", based upon Claimant's answers. [Exhibit 2]
. He agreed he did not ask to speak to any officer privately.
Not all the inmates who came on the same bus were sent to the same housing unit after processing. When he arrived at the housing unit, he did not tell anyone that Mr. Antonaccio was an enemy, nor did he ask to speak with any correction personnel privately about Mr. Antonaccio.

Claimant alleged that the only statement that was incorrect in notes entered based upon Ms. Diaz' intake interview - including notes about his mental health and substance abuse history, his age, his educational background, his interest in obtaining a GED - was the statement saying that Claimant "states he has no enemies in NYSDOCS." [Exhibit 3]. Claimant recalled there were approximately 15 inmates lined up waiting to be interviewed, but could not say whether Ms. Diaz was to interview them all. He reiterated that he did not tell anyone else, after October 4, 2000, about his problems with Antonaccio.

On re-direct examination he explained that he did not speak to uniformed correction personnel because there was "no privacy, . . . [he] was scared, and you can't be seen talking to an officer in private because other inmates think you're talking about them or you're telling on somebody, so you just don't do that. It was . . . [his] first time upstate, . . . [he] was scared and really didn't know what to do. The only private time . . . [he] had was with Ms. Diaz." He explained that there were inmates around him "always" from the time he arrived at Downstate until the assault, except for the private interview with Ms. Diaz. He also noted that the actual date of his interview is not reflected anywhere on the computer printout shown to him on cross-examination. [Exhibit 3]. Additionally, he said that he understood the questions about whether he had enemies to mean whether Claimant had a problem with somebody else, not the other way around. He knew no other people in DOCS at that time, except for Mr. Antonaccio.

On re-cross-examination, he would not concede that he knew why he was being asked whether he had any enemies, or that the question related to something other than separating him from anyone who feared him. Shown copies of his medical records reflecting his examinations on October 3, 2000; including reports from an eye examination and medical history, Claimant maintained that other inmates were present when he was examined and when his medical history - including questions of a very personal nature - was taken.

Carmen Diaz, a Correctional Counselor and 23-year employee of DOCS, also testified. Her duties included reviewing records arriving from the County jails and other States concerning the inmates, interviewing the inmates for program and housing placement purposes, and classification of inmates in accordance with DOCS directives. She indicated she had no independent recollection of her interview with Claimant.

Inmate interviews, she said, were generally performed in private in an office with a door that closed, however she did not generally close the door for security reasons. Other inmates, however, were not present during the interview, nor were they permitted to be present in practice.

Ms. Diaz indicated familiarity with the Custodial Transfer Information form received from Nassau County Correctional Facility [Exhibit 1]; the Downstate Correctional Facility Pre-Classification Review form completed at Downstate reception [Exhibit 2]; and the Classification Analysis form based upon her intake interview. [Exhibit 3]. During the interview, she would have had the forms from Nassau and Downstate in front of her. The purpose of the intake interview was to classify the inmate, and was generally conducted within a few days of the inmate's arrival. She said that she used a form to write notes as she interviewed, but would not save such notes, as they were sent for input by the clerk into the computer system to generate the Classification Analysis form. [
See Exhibit 3]. She explained that the October 10, 2000 date on the form for Claimant did not reflect when the interview was done, but rather the date that the clerk entered the information into the computer. [See id.].
Ms. Diaz also identified a Classification Analysis form for Dominick Antonaccio. [Exhibit 5]. She also did not have any independent recollection of her interview of Antonaccio. She confirmed that the "date received" on the form is the date the inmate was received at the facility, not the interview date. [
See id.]. Indeed, she could not say from looking at either Claimant's or Antonaccio's forms when the interviews were conducted. [Exhibits 3 and 5].
When asked whether there was a procedure in place in October 2000 for handling an inmate's expressed security or safety concerns with another inmate in his housing unit, the witness said there was. She said that the counselor would be directly responsible for contacting a Sergeant or other correction personnel to advise of the concern. She also said that she would generally only speak with an inmate once, unless the inmate requested further contact.

On cross-examination, Ms. Diaz was shown and identified a photocopy of handwritten notes she made on October 3, 2000, based upon a review of documents concerning the various incoming inmates the day before their actual interviews. [Exhibit 8]. She noted that there were notations for both Antonaccio and Claimant.
[id.]. She confirmed that the "third question always asked is whether they have any enemies in the system," because DOCS needs to know if there is "any animosity" so that "we can protect them." She said that she didn't "necessarily" discuss with the inmate why the question concerning enemies was being asked. She is required to note the inmate's answer and, in the event that the inmate says that he has an enemy, the "separation system" is initiated through filling out an additional form and details concerning why the inmate considers the other person an enemy. If the concern is "serious" the officer or sergeant at the housing area is called, who then also interviews the inmate, and offers protective custody.
Ms. Diaz confirmed that Exhibits 3 and 5 show the negative responses to the question of enemies by, respectively, Claimant and Antonaccio, recorded to the best of her ability. She said she interviews approximately 6 inmates per day, almost 5 days per week.

On re-direct examination, she confirmed that the photocopy of handwritten notes are not any notes she might have taken during the interview, and could not recall "one way or the other" whether she said to Claimant that she had already interviewed Antonaccio, or that she was aware that Antonaccio was his co-defendant.

On re-cross examination, she confirmed that learning that one inmate was a co-defendant of another inmate would not necessarily trigger a security concern, because such status would not automatically mean that there was animosity.

The deposition testimony of Correction Officer Green, on duty at the time of incident, was also submitted in evidence on consent. [Exhibit 12]. The testimony confirms that Claimant was sitting down in the gallery recreation area when Antonaccio approached, and they appeared to engage in conversation. Then Claimant was "flung" into a pillar . . . right beside the Officer's station, where Officer Green was sitting in the bubble. [
ibid. p. 9]. She said that Castilla "ended up on the floor" but could not say if he was trying to get away or if he was pushed to the floor. [ibid. p. 10-11]. When Claimant was flung, she pulled her personal alarm for assistance, stepped out of the bubble, and ordered the 34 inmates in the gallery to "lock in", while Claimant and Antonaccio continued in their physical altercation. [ibid. p. 11-12]. She also verbally directed Claimant and Antonaccio to stop fighting. After she pulled her personal alarm, 4 to 5 officers responded, arriving after she had given the direction to stop fighting, and after Antonaccio had gotten up against the wall at her direction. [ibid. p. 13]. When Claimant was told to get up, however, he indicated he could not "because his knee was hurting." [ibid. p. 14]. She called for medical assistance, and Claimant was taken out on a stretcher shortly thereafter. [ibid. p. 14-15].
There are references in her testimony to internal memoranda concerning investigation of the assault, including a memorandum from Sergeant Eurich - who was apparently investigating the incident - based upon his interview with Officer Green [Exhibit 10], and Officer Green's memorandum directed to Sergeant Eurich, [Exhibit 11], essentially confirming that Antonaccio was the person who started the fight.

Significantly, Correction Officer Green also testified that she did not know of any problems between Claimant and Antonaccio prior to the October 9, 2000 assault. [Exhibit 12, p. 21].

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

In order to establish liability on the State's part in a case involving an inmate upon inmate assault, a Claimant must allege and prove
that the State knew or should have known that there was a risk of harm to the inmate Claimant that was reasonably foreseeable and inadequately addressed. Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 253 (2002)[2]; See also Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342, 347 (1947). The Court must look to see if the actions taken by the State were reasonable under the circumstances. The duty of reasonable care does not, however, render the State the insurer of inmate safety. Sanchez v State of New York, supra. The mere fact that a correction officer is not present at the precise time and place of an assault, for example, does not give rise to an inference of negligence absent a showing that officials had notice - actual or constructive - of a foreseeable dangerous situation. Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842 (3d Dept 1994); Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914 (4th Dept 1990), lv denied, 76 NY2d 711 (1990); Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650 (3d Dept 1981).[3] " . . . [U]nremitting supervision . . . " is not required. Colon v State of New York, supra, at 844.
Upon consideration of all the evidence, and based upon the relative credibility and consistency of the witnesses' testimony, Claimant has not established that the State had any reason to know that Claimant was at risk of being assaulted and failed to provide him with reasonable protection. The Court does not credit Claimant's testimony to the effect that on October 4, 2000 he told his correction counselor that his assailant was a known enemy, and finds the testimony of the Carmen Diaz, together with the documentary evidence, more internally consistent. For example, despite the accuracy of all the other information recorded by Ms. Diaz in her intake interview, Claimant would have the Court determine that in this one area the information is inaccurate. Additionally, Claimant would have the Court believe that he somehow did not understand the "enemies" question posed repeatedly as he moved from Nassau County to Downstate - belying the Court's impression that Claimant is an astute individual - and then suddenly realized that the enemies inquiry involved people he feared, as opposed to the other way around. His version would also require the Court to believe that during medical examinations he had no privacy, and that at no time prior to the assault could he have sought out a correctional employee to make his fears known.

In this case, there has been no adequate showing that the Claimant was known to be at risk either generally, or that his attacker was known for violent propensities. There was no prior notice of any antagonism between Claimant and his assailant, or any other evidence of motive. There was no record made to establish that the number of correction officers used to supervise the inmates during gallery recreation was against penological standards of care. The attentiveness of Correction Officer Green was reasonable under the circumstances, and there was no evidence that the officer was slacking off. More generally, the inherent risk of violent activity in a correctional facility housing dangerous individuals does not mandate imposition of liability for inmate-on-inmate assaults that are not reasonably foreseeable. Claimant has not sustained his burden of establishing that the State had actual or constructive notice of the harm that befell him by a preponderance of the credible evidence.

Claim Number 107997 is hereby dismissed in its entirety.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

May 2, 2005
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.

[2] In Sanchez v State of New York, supra, the Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division - which had affirmed a Court of Claims dismissal on summary judgment of the Claimant's negligent supervision claim - finding that there was a triable issue of fact as to the foreseeability of an attack upon Claimant that was as much a surprise to him as it allegedly was to the State.

[3] Another example might be whether there was information which would trigger any heightened awareness of a risk to this inmate - any "suspicious" behavior such as an individual leaving an assigned work post, or stuffing magazines in his shirt to avoid injury - to alert correction personnel of a specific danger brewing.