New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SANKOFA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-030-034, Claim No. 107064


Case Information

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Signature date:
October 31, 2005
White Plains

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See also (multicaptioned case)

Abdallah K. Sankofa alleges in Claim Number 107064 that Defendant's agents at Green Haven Correctional Facility used excessive force while he was in their custody on November 1, 2002. Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on October 17, 2005.

Claimant testified that on November 1, 2002 at approximately 5:45 p.m. he was part of a group of 30 inmates from A-Block being escorted by Officer Nagy to programs in the J-school in Building 12 at Green Haven. Claimant was on his way to the mosque for services. When his group approached the corridor area near J-School, some inmates from an escort moments earlier from B and C-Blocks still waited in the corridor across from the reception area. Although the better part of the group from B- and C-Blocks had been directed to proceed to the J-School gate when Claimant's group came to stand at the yellow line across from the reception area in the corridor, 12 or so inmates still remained from B- and C-Blocks.

told Claimant that Officer Mapes had already ordered J-School call-outs to line up behind the J-School gate. Based upon this information, Claimant and several others from A-Block walked toward the J-School gate. Then, Claimant averred, Officer Nagy "singled . . . [him] out of the group" and started questioning why he had crossed the yellow line. When Claimant tried to explain that Officer Mapes had told everyone going to J-School to move out, "Officer Nagy said: ‘I didn't tell you to move or anything like that; give me your ID card and everybody go back to behind the line.' So . . . [he] gave . . . [Officer Nagy his] ID card and lined up behind the line."
Thereafter, all the others going to J-School were directed to do so, but Claimant was directed to stay behind. He said that he waited alone for about 20 to 25 minutes in the hallway while another group going to Building 12 was allowed to go forward. Officer Mapes was around the corner "she couldn't even see . . . [him]," but told him to wait when he said that he was going to go back to the block. After Officer Mapes told him to wait, Claimant asked to see a sergeant but was told by the officer that he "didn't need to see a sergeant." After a further period of waiting, he then saw Officers Nagy and Strack coming down the hallway. Officer Strack walked "right by . . . [him] into the reception room," while Officer Nagy spoke with Claimant, saying "why are you disrespecting me" as Claimant continued to explain that Officer Mapes had directed the earlier movements. Officer Nagy then said "are you gonna let me talk?" and "let's go to the reception area to talk."

In the reception room, Officer Nagy directed Claimant to take off his coat, empty his pockets, and then ordered him to enter a smaller room or office off the reception room. Officer Nagy directed that Claimant put his hands against the wall - which he did - and then conducted a "pat/frisk" of Claimant. "The next thing you know Officer Strack came in and started cursing and screaming at . . . [Claimant]; and the next thing you know Officer Strack just swung at . . . [him] hitting . . . [him] in the back of the head."

Claimant said he rolled himself up into a fetal position, and then Officer Nagy came and started kicking him. Claimant said he was now on the floor in the corner while Officer Strack punched him and Officer Nagy kicked him. A third officer came in - whose name he did not recall - from one of the reception areas. They put handcuffs on Claimant behind his back, and Officer Strack continued to elbow him in his back. More officers came, including a sergeant, who asked what was going on. Thereafter, Claimant was "taken to medical" where photographs were taken [Exhibits 1A-E], he spoke with a lieutenant, and was then transported "to the box."

The Court notes that there appears to be a bruise at his top left temple in at least one photograph [Exhibit 1D] as well as some kind of marking on his back in another [Exhibit 1A]. Otherwise, the photographs are not particularly clear.

On cross-examination Claimant would not agree that he was not injured as a result of this incident. Shown the photographs taken at the infirmary, he said 1D shows injury to his face and head, as does 1C. He denied receiving ice or Tylenol on the day of the incident. Claimant indicated that he understood that when given orders by officers - even if he did not understand the reasons for such orders - he was required to comply. He agreed that although he did not understand at the time why, there came a time on that day when Officer Nagy asked him to step out of the line. He would not admit that he was irritated by being singled out to step out of the line, nor did he fail to comply with the direction that he place his hands on the wall. He did not agree that he took his hands off the wall in contravention of any direct order, except when Officer Strack punched him in back of the head for no reason. He claimed he had not said anything to Officer Strack prior to being punched. He was not yelling while in line. When he was in the hallway by himself, he agreed, because he had been standing there for 25 minutes, he said "I'm going back to the block" to Officer Mapes and then said "I want to see a sergeant," but he claimed he was not raising his voice.

Correction Officer Michael Nagy testified that he had a brief recollection of the incident involving Claimant on that day, but had also reviewed a "to/from" he had written to his sergeant [Exhibit 5]; an inmate misbehavior report he had written concerning the incident [Exhibit 6] and the supporting deposition he had completed in connection with a proceeding against Claimant in the Town of Beekman Justice Court. [Exhibit 4]. He recognized Claimant on the day of trial.

On November 1, 2002, Officer Nagy stated, he first saw Claimant standing in a line of inmates headed toward programs at 5:30 p.m. Prior to that evening, he had had no interactions with Claimant. He told the group to stop at the next yellow line: the normal procedure when escorting a large group, taking one line at a time to maintain order. Claimant, he said, did not comply with that direction. Officer Nagy told Claimant to return to the group behind the yellow line, at which point Claimant "became disruptive and argumentative." Claimant was "using his hands, and directed all the rest of the group to come forward with him." The officer then directed Claimant, as well as all the inmates who had proceeded to follow Claimant, to return to the yellow line.

After the group returned to the yellow line, he began "running the groups to where they needed to go to." He told Claimant to "step to the side in another hallway, and to let the other group go by him . . .because . . . [the officer] had already had a problem with him . . . he had refused to show his ID card." Officer Nagy planned on "procuring . . . [Claimant's] ID card and returning him back to his housing unit, or counseling the inmate."

Officer Nagy said he then "ran the rest of the groups," and when he returned "the inmate was being very loud and disruptive. They were starting to drop more groups in the hallway, so

. . . [he] brought him to reception to avoid a bigger problem."
Once in the reception room, Officer Nagy told Claimant to take off his jacket, remove things from his pockets and place his hands on the wall. Claimant complied. Officer Nagy could not remember if he commenced a pat/frisk or not, because he "didn't get that far . . . [Claimant] turned from the wall and assaulted . . . [Officer Nagy] by hitting . . . [him] in the face." Officer Nagy said that Claimant hit him with a closed fist on the jaw, and kicked the officer several times. Officer Nagy said he "tried to restrain the inmate." He thought that he grabbed Claimant's left arm and tried to restrain him and bring him to the ground. Officer Strack then assisted Officer Nagy in restraining Claimant. Another officer responded there - he had "heard the incident" - and after applying handcuffs Claimant was escorted out of the area.

After the incident, Officer Nagy completed the misbehavior report and the State Police report. Officer Nagy did not remember Claimant saying anything just prior to assaulting him. Claimant was found guilty of the assault charge at a disciplinary hearing at which Officer Nagy testified.

On cross-examination, Officer Nagy explained that it was the usual practice to give a direct order to the inmates in front when moving a group. He did not recall Officer Mapes directing those inmates going to J-School to proceed. He said the only inmate he saw going across the yellow line was the Claimant, and Officer Mapes - stationed at the gate - had her back to the line. Although Officer Nagy did agree that Claimant complied with the direction to furnish his ID card, the officer said it was only after the second or third request that the ID card was furnished. Officer Nagy conceded that Claimant complied with the directions to go to reception, to remove his coat, to empty his pockets and - at least initially - to place his hands on the wall. Officer Nagy repeated that he did not remember whether he conducted a pat/frisk, nor did he remember actually calling the sergeant as had been requested by Claimant. Officer Nagy confirmed that there was no opportunity to do so because he was hit by Claimant before he could initiate a pat/frisk, make a call for a sergeant, or talk to the inmate. The witness could not recall whether he was directly asked to get a sergeant, or whether Claimant had asked somebody else.

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 Misc2d 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 dated November 30, 2000, Sise, J. (UID 2000-028-0012).
Before turning to any question of the degree of force, however, resolution of this claim rests upon the relative credibility of the Claimant and Correction Officer Nagy, and the evidence Claimant presented to substantiate his claim. Based upon a preponderance of the credible evidence, the Claimant has failed to establish that the degree of force used was excessive.

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). Claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that he complied with a lawful direction, and that the correction officer used unreasonable force under the circumstances. The Court finds that Claimant decided to disobey a direct order by Officer Nagy. [Exhibits 5 and 6]. Indeed, the uncontradicted testimony is that Claimant was found guilty of the charges raised in his disciplinary hearing.
Faced with a large group of inmates and a seemingly minor insurrection under Claimant's leadership, Officer Nagy justifiably separated Claimant from the group, and completed his escort tasks. Thereafter, at first alone with an inmate who struck him, it was reasonable to attempt to restrain Claimant. The force used to subdue him was reasonable under the circumstances. Claimant's assertion that Officer Strack or Officer Nagy used force unnecessarily, and without provocation on his part, simply lacks credibility.

Besides internal inconsistencies in his testimony, Claimant has not offered any medical evidence to substantiate any alleged injury by some objective means. The photographs are not dispositive of the extent of any injury, and demonstrate, at best, bruising that would occur consistent with the take-down maneuvers described by Officer Nagy. The officer credibly testified as best as he could recall to an event occurring three (3) years before the date of trial. The contemporaneous accounts shown in the paperwork support only the version of events testified to by Officer Nagy. [
See Exhibits 4, 5, 6].
Claimant has not sustained his burden of showing by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence that officers used excessive force to restrain him on November 1, 2002. Claim Number 107064 is in all respects dismissed.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

October 31, 2005
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

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