David Benjamin alleges in Claim Number 107380 that he was assaulted in his
cell at Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereafter Green Haven) and caused
serious injury due to the Defendant’s failure to protect him, and/or
because of a conspiracy to cause him injury between certain correction officers
and other inmates. Trial of the matter was held at Green Haven on April 21,
Claimant testified that “on Saturday, December 21, 2002 and
then again on Sunday, December 22, 2002 at about 11:00 a.m. on the go
he had asked the correction officer at the gate to go to the yard, but the gate
was not opened for him. On both days, however, “at about 1:30 p.m. the
officer allowed an inmate from another cellblock to enter the gate”,
Claimant’s cell was opened, and “the strong stranger” entered
Claimant’s cell and assaulted him. On the Saturday, the stranger took a
cane and beat him up. Claimant screamed for help, and his assailant threw the
cane at him. On the Sunday, the stranger took some kind of narrow, sharp
plastic object, “like a broken mirror”, and announced that “he
had come to finish the job.” As he moved to attack Claimant, Mr. Benjamin
put his right hand on his chest, and raised his left hand up defensively to
avoid a blow. The object stabbed his left hand “about two inches”,
between the third and fourth fingers. Claimant screamed because he was in so
much pain, and the assailant ran away with the object.
Claimant covered his
hand with a handkerchief because he was bleeding, there was blood on his cane
and “all over his belongings” but no one came in response to his
screams. When “the 2 o’clock officer came around, he saw . . .
[Claimant’s] hand was bleeding and that the handkerchief was
bloody”, and then took him out of the cell to the front of the block where
Sergeant Hillman was waiting. They then escorted him to the facility emergency
room where he was “cleaned up” by Nurse Figueroa. The nurse found a
two-inch hole or laceration between the two fingers of Claimant’s left
hand. Transport to St. Agnes Hospital to determine if there was any further
injury was arranged. While waiting to be moved to St. Agnes, Sergeant Hillman
brought in “books” of pictures of inmates. “After 30-40
minutes”, Claimant named his assailant from the pictures, asking that his
information be kept confidential. He gave his assailant’s name, and was
told his nickname. Claimant explained that he “does not have contact
with the inmates, [he] is just doing his time . . . The inmates have
“rules” that he does not follow.”
After x-rays were taken
at St. Agnes, there were “no foreign bodies found.” He was given
“nine stitches and they closed the wound.”
Mr. Benjamin said
that “2 ½ months later [he was] in protective custody in A-1.”
Documents admitted in evidence on consent, including an Inmate Injury
Report and other medical records, an Unusual Incident Report, and records from
the St. Agnes Hospital emergency room, confirm that Mr. Benjamin was assaulted
and injured on December 22, 2002, and received treatment at Green Haven and at
an outside hospital, including sutures. [Exhibit 1]. Photographs taken by
facility personnel also show his injured hand. [Exhibit 2].
Incident Report reporting an incident dated December 22, 2002, indicates that
Mr. Benjamin “reported to C.O. J. Cook that he had a cut on his . . .
[left] hand between the 3rd & 4th fingers.” [Exhibit 1]. The Report
continues “. . . inmate escorted to clinic, seen by Nurse J. Figueroa, who
used tele-med to determine the cut was through the tendon. Inmate sent to St.
Agnes Hospital . . . During interview with Sgt. Hillman inmate stated he was
attacked by an unknown inmate who entered his cell, hit him with a cane &
cut him with an unknown/unrecovered weapon. Benjamin’s cell was searched
. . . recovered one cane with blood on it. Cane was placed in the contraband
locker . . . 12/22 Benjamin . . . [returned from] St Agnes Hospital & placed
in IPC [involuntary protective custody]. 12/23 discharged . . . [from
involuntary protective custody] to A4/181 cell.”
There is no indication on the documents submitted that any
assailant’s name was reported or recorded.
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
NY2d 247, 253 (2002)
; 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
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
, 209 AD2d 842 (3d Dept 1994); Padgett v State of New York
AD2d 914 (4th Dept 1990), lv denied
76 NY2d 711 (1990); Huertas v
State of New York
, 84 AD2d 650 (3d Dept 1981).
“. . . [U]nremitting supervision . . .” is not required. Colon v
State of New York
After carefully considering the
evidence presented, including the testimony of Claimant and observing his
demeanor as he did so, the Court finds parts of Claimant’s testimony
credible, while other parts appear inconsistent with the record presented. While
it certainly is established that Claimant was assaulted while in State custody,
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. In this case, there has been no showing that the Claimant was known
to be at risk either generally, or that his attacker was known for violent
propensities, or any prior notice of antagonism between Claimant and his
assailant, or any other evidence of motive. Indeed, although Claimant testified
that he identified his attacker during a 40 minute review of inmate photographs,
this is not borne out by any of the documentary evidence reporting the assault,
the investigation and the medical treatment.
Claimant testified that he was
assaulted on two successive days. This version of events is not supported by
the documentary record Claimant himself submitted either. Moreover, Mr. Benjamin
was at pains to convey that he did not mingle with other inmates, and was
unfamiliar with their “rules.” It is unclear how he would know one
way or the other whether an inmate “belonged” on his block, or not,
nor is this aspect of his claim established by the equivocal testimony he gave
of the circumstances leading up to being stabbed with a plastic object of some
kind. He claimed he was not allowed out to the yard, but a stranger was let in
on two successive days at the same time. The court simply cannot credit his
testimony, except where it is substantiated in the documentary record he
presented. All that has been established, therefore, is that he was the victim
of an unprovoked attack by an unknown assailant in a prison setting.
difficult to contemplate how this unfortunate event would have been avoided.
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. The State is
entitled to deference in managing the safety and order of its facilities.
See Arteaga v State of New York
, 72 NY2d 212, 216 (1988).
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
Accordingly, Claim Number 107380 is hereby dismissed in
its entirety for a failure of proof.
Let Judgment be entered accordingly.