Claimant seeks damages for personal injuries he sustained on February 2, 1997,
resulting from a knife attack by another inmate when both he and his assailant
were housed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) at Auburn Correctional Facility.
The assault occurred when both claimant and his assailant, inmate Patrick
Proctor, were in the recreation yard with other SHU inmates. The knife used in
this attack was recovered by facility personnel, and it was apparent that this
particular knife was not permitted in the facility.
Claimant therefore alleges negligence against the State in allowing the knife
to be smuggled into the facility and SHU, and further by allowing Mr. Proctor to
avoid detection and carry this knife into the recreation yard where he carried
out his assault against claimant.
The trial of this claim was bifurcated, and this decision deals solely with the
issue of liability.
Claimant did not personally appear at the trial of this claim. At the outset
of the trial, claimant's attorney waived his client's right to
and as a result, a transcript of claimant's pre-trial deposition testimony was
admitted into evidence, constituting his trial testimony (see Exhibit 5).
In addition to the transcript of claimant's deposition testimony, transcripts
of deposition testimony provided by four correction officers (E. Feathers
[Exhibit 6], Michael Hoey [Exhibit 7], Christopher Kudal [Exhibit 8], and Thomas
Lupo [Exhibit 9]) were also received into evidence. At trial, Correction
Officers Raymond Head, Gary Gibson, and Richard Cox provided testimony. The
collective testimony establishes that the essential facts pertinent to this
assault are not in dispute.
Testimony established that on February 2, 1997, claimant was incarcerated at
Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. On this date, he was
housed in the Special Housing Unit, in which inmates are restricted to their
cells, except for one hour per day of recreation in an outside yard. During
this one hour recreation period, access to the yard is limited to SHU inmates.
At trial, Raymond Head testified that he was the SHU supervisor on the date of
this accident. He testified that before the SHU inmates are escorted to the
recreation yard each day, the yard is searched by a correction officer for
possible contraband or weapons. He further testified that SHU inmates are
by guards as they leave their cells to be escorted to the yard, and that the
inmates are also subject to a search by a wand type metal detector.
In his deposition testimony, Correction Officer Lupo testified that he was
responsible for searching the recreation yard for contraband before inmates were
allowed into the yard, and that on the day of the incident, he thoroughly
searched the yard and found no contraband or weapons.
While in the recreation yard on February 2, 1997, claimant was suddenly
attacked by inmate Proctor, who used a manufactured knife in his assault.
Claimant sustained numerous stab and slash wounds to his arm, back, and
shoulder, including an 8 to 9 inch slash under his left arm. Claimant also
sustained wounds to his face, including a long wound which resulted in a scar
starting near his right ear and crossing the jaw, ending at a point under his
In his trial testimony, Correction Officer Gibson testified that he responded
to the incident, and when he approached, he observed inmate Proctor with his
foot over a knife in an attempt to conceal it. Correction Officer Gibson took
control of the knife, and noticed that it was a commercially manufactured
jackknife. Officer Gibson also found a cardboard sheath near inmate Proctor
that was large enough to cover the knife, if the knife was folded into a closed
position. Correction Officer Gibson also noticed a long piece of cloth, several
feet in length, near the cardboard sheath.
Correction officers testified that on other occasions, inmates have hidden
knifes in their rectums in order to avoid detection by a metal detector, and
that cardboard coverings can be used to make it even less likely that the weapon
will be detected. Furthermore, a length of cloth attached to the knife can be
used by an inmate to quickly pull the weapon from his rectum.
Although the correction officers surmised that inmate Proctor avoided detection
and smuggled the knife into the recreation yard by inserting it into his rectum,
there was no direct proof establishing this fact, or any proof whatsoever as to
how inmate Proctor came into possession of the knife. Uncontested evidence did
establish, however, that this was a commercially manufactured knife and that
possession of such a knife, either by an inmate or correction officer, was not
It is well settled that the State is required to use reasonable care to protect
inmates of its correctional facilities from a 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 the instant matter, this claim is based primarily on the undisputed fact
that inmate Proctor had possession of, and utilized, a commercially manufactured
knife in his assault against claimant, even though both claimant and inmate
Proctor were confined to SHU at Auburn Correctional Facility at the time of the
attack. In essence, it is claimant's position that the State must have been
negligent by somehow allowing inmate Proctor to acquire possession of the knife
while in SHU, and/or further allowing inmate Proctor to smuggle this knife from
his cell in SHU into the recreation yard on the date of the assault.
Despite these arguments, however, claimant has failed to establish any acts of
negligence against the State. Claimant has not established that the State
failed to adhere to any of its established rules and regulations in its
operation of the facility, or in its treatment of inmate Proctor or claimant.
Testimony established that proper procedures required the recreation yard to be
inspected for the presence of concealed weapons or contraband prior to the
exercise period when this assault occurred, and further required that inmates
were to be "pat frisked" and subjected to a metal wand search prior to their
entry into the yard. There was no testimony whatsoever that these procedures
were not followed on the day of the assault.
Furthermore, according to the testimony of Correction Officer Head, the metal
detectors in use in 1997 could not necessarily detect metal weapons if they were
secreted in body cavities. As previously stated herein, testimony also
established that inmates might attempt to avoid detection of weapons by hiding
them in a body cavity.
Correction Officer Head further testified that body cavity searches could only
be conducted upon prior authorization, based on probable cause, and that
facility personnel had no probable cause to conduct such a search of inmate
Proctor on the date of the assault.
In sum, even though claimant's assailant used a commercially manufactured
weapon which was obviously smuggled into the facility, this fact alone does not
establish negligence on the part of the defendant (see
Sanchez v State of New York
Based on the testimony presented, the Court does not find that any violation of
facility procedures on the date of this incident was established. Evidence
established that the recreation yard was searched by facility personnel prior to
use by the SHU inmates. Additionally, claimant has presented absolutely no
evidence to suggest that the inmates in the yard, and in particular, his
assailant, were not properly searched on that day. The sole fact that
claimant's assailant successfully smuggled a prohibited weapon into the
recreation yard is not sufficient, in and of itself, to cast liability against
Accordingly, based upon the foregoing, the Court, although sympathetic to the
injuries suffered by him, finds that claimant has failed to establish by a
preponderance of the credible evidence that his injuries were the result of
defendant's negligence. There was no evidence presented that the assault was
reasonably foreseeable. This claim must be, and hereby is, dismissed.
All motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.