New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

KING v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-009-151, Claim No. 96696


Synopsis


This claim for personal injuries sustained in an inmate-on-inmate assault was dismissed.

Case Information

UID:
2006-009-151
Claimant(s):
JAMEL A. KING
Claimant short name:
KING
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
96696
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant's attorney:
WILLIAM T. MARTIN & ASSOCIATES
BY: William T. Martin, Esq.,Of Counsel.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Edward F. McArdle, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 13, 2006
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision
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 appear[1]
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 "patted down"[2]
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 cheek.

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 permitted.

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 York, 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, 99 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 New York, supra). 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, supra 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, supra at 256).
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, supra at 256).
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 the State.

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.


March 13, 2006
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1] This waiver was subsequently confirmed, in writing, by claimant, in a document dated May 27, 2005, and received by the Court on June 3, 2005.
[2] Unless otherwise indicated, all references and quotations are taken from the Court's trial notes.