New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

TAYLOR v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-015-561, Claim No. 110611


Synopsis


Following trial in which the claimant, a pro se inmate, alleged excessive force by correction officers, claim was dismissed.

Case Information

UID:
2007-015-561
Claimant(s):
DAVON TAYLOR
Claimant short name:
TAYLOR
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
110611
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant’s attorney:
Davon Taylor, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Kevan J. Acton, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
July 24, 2007
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant, a pro se inmate in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services, brings this claim alleging that excessive force was used against him by Correction Officer James Rando at Great Meadow Correctional Facility on January 26, 2005. The claim proceeded to trial on May 23, 2007.


Claimant testified that on January 26, 2005 he was going to the recreation yard when he was asked questions by Correction Officer Rando regarding the weather, which the claimant deemed "irrelevant" and chose not to answer. Correction Officer Rando then stopped the claimant for a "pat frisk" and found a weapon in the claimant's boxer shorts. Correction Officer Rando pinned the claimant to the wall and requested Correction Officer Smith to handcuff the claimant. Claimant testified that after the handcuffs were applied Correction Officer Rando punched him in the back of his head and pushed his face into the wall. Claimant testified that he was taken to the facility infirmary where seven stitches were applied to his right cheek.

On cross-examination the claimant admitted that on the date of the alleged incident he had a handmade weapon sewn into his boxer shorts. He was frisked by Correction Officer Rando who discovered the weapon and pinned him to the wall using his body weight. He described Correction Officer Rando as "large" and stated that at no time did he remove his hands from the wall. Correction Officer Rando then pulled the claimant's hands behind his back, Correction Officer Smith applied handcuffs and the weapon was removed from the claimant. Claimant testified that he has been subjected to pat frisks in the past and was aware that frisk procedures require an inmate to put his hands on a wall.

Claimant's Exhibits 1 and 1-b through 7 were received in evidence[1]. Exhibits 1 and 1-b contain four black and white photocopies of photographs of the claimant following the incident, one of which depicts a small laceration on claimant's right cheek.

Claimant's Exhibit 2 is a misbehavior report authored by Correction Officer Rando in which he stated that during the course of a routine pat frisk he detected a foreign object in the claimant's groin area and asked the claimant if it was a weapon. The claimant "quickly removed his hand (sic) off the wall and started to turn toward me. Force became necessary". According to the report, Correction Officer Rando then retrieved a homemade "metal type razor with a plastic pen cap sheath" from the claimant's boxer shorts.

Claimant's Exhibit 3 is an Interdepartmental Communication from Correction Officer Rando in which he indicates that the following occurred after the object was detected in the claimant's pants:
Upon finding this I asked inmate Taylor what it was and if it was a weapon, at that point he quickly brought his hands down and attempted to retrieve the object. At the (sic) point using my right hand in the middle of his back I forced inmate Taylor to the wall, using my right shoulder and body weight against inmate Taylor's upper middle back I held him there, using my right hand I grasped his right wrist, using my left hand I grasped his left wrist and forced both hands behind his back. Mechanical [restraints] were applied by other security staff who were in the area and came to my assistance. No other force was needed or used by myself.

Exhibit 4 is another Interdepartmental Communication from Correction Officer Rando which indicates that the claimant sustained a "one inch long horizontal cut when the cheek of his face struck the horizontal bricks that protrude out from the surface of the wall directly above the newly installed metal frisk shelf".

Exhibit 5 is an Interdepartmental Communication from Sergeant Michael dated February 14, 2005 which indicates that Correction Officer Rando used the "minimal force necessary" to restrain the claimant who continued to "violently struggle" during the process (see also Exhibit 6).

Exhibit 7 is a computer generated Unusual Incident Report indicating the use of force in the form of a "body hold" and the presence of a laceration.

This concluded the claimant's case in chief.

Defendant's first witness was Correction Officer Timothy Smith. Correction Officer Smith was in the rotunda area at the time of the incident and observed Correction Officer Rando trying to control the claimant by pushing him against the wall. He testified that Correction Officer Rando weighed approximately 250 pounds at the time of the incident, the claimant weighed approximately 150 pounds and that the claimant's face was "pressed" against a wall composed of brick and mortar. Correction Officer Rando informed Correction Officer Smith that the claimant had something in his shorts and Correction Officer Smith was instructed to handcuff the claimant by Sergeant Michael. Correction Officer Smith testified that he could not recall whether or not the claimant sustained an injury to his cheek.

On cross-examination Correction Officer Smith testified that he did not assist Correction Officer Rando in restraining the claimant; rather, his involvement was limited to applying the handcuffs.

Defendant called Correction Officer Rando as its next witness. Correction Officer Rando testified that there was a policy at Great Meadow Correctional Facility to randomly "pat frisk" inmates in the rotunda area during periods of inmate movement. He selected the claimant for a random frisk and directed him to place his hands on the wall in the "pat frisk" position. Correction Officer Rando performed the frisk with gloved hands and detected the foreign object in the claimant's groin area. Claimant then attempted to remove his hands from the wall, which led Correction Officer Rando to believe that the claimant was trying to "get away". As a result, he shoved the claimant and "pinned" him to the wall. Correction Officer Rando testified that he requested assistance at that point and Correction Officer Smith approached and applied handcuffs as Correction Officer Rando held the claimant's hands. He testified that the object in the claimant's groin area was a handmade piece of sharpened metal imbedded in a State-issued pen. Correction Officer Rando testified that he used his body weight to control the claimant and never struck or kicked him.

On cross-examination Correction Officer Rando acknowledged that he restrained the claimant when he removed his hands from the wall. Contrary to the report of Sergeant Michael (Exhibit 6), Correction Officer Rando testified that the claimant's face did not come in contact with the metal tray on the wall; rather, the claimant's injury occurred when his face came in contact with the brick wall. Received in evidence as defendant's Exhibit A is color photocopy of the weapon found in the claimant's possession on the date of the alleged incident. This concluded the trial testimony.

The law is well-settled that the State is not immune from liability for assault and battery which results when an officer uses more force than is necessary to perform his or her duty (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 220-221 [1988]; Jones v State of New York, 33 NY2d 275 [1973]; Stein v State of New York, 53 AD2d 988 [1976]). That being said, force is permitted "[w]hen any inmate . . . shall offer violence to any person . . . or resist or disobey any lawful direction . . ." (Correction Law § 137[5]). The applicable regulation governing the use of force makes clear that "[w]here it is necessary to use physical force, only such degree of force as is reasonably required shall be used" (7 NYCRR § 251-1.2[b]).

A proper assessment of the degree of force necessary requires consideration of the particular circumstances confronting the officers at the time the force was applied (Koeiman v City of New York, 36 AD3d 451 [2007]; Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800 [1996]; Hinton v City of New York, 13 AD2d 475 [1961]). In making this determination, the credibility of the witnesses is often the most critical factor (Davis v State of New York , 203 AD2d 234 [1994]; Vogler v State of New York, 2002 WL 32068269, 2002 NY Slip Op 50604[U]). Here, the Court finds the testimony of Correction Officers Smith and Rando credible and concludes that reasonable force was used under the circumstances. Correction Officer Rando testified that when the weapon was found the claimant quickly removed his hands from the wall, which led him to believe that the claimant was trying to "get away". The testimony of Correction Officer Smith confirmed that the claimant was pressed against the wall by Correction Officer Rando only after he discovered the concealed object in the claimant's shorts and that the claimant removed his hands from the wall in violation of the customary procedure. The fact that the report of Sergeant Michael indicates, contrary to the testimony of these officers, his opinion that the claimant's injury occurred when the claimant's face came in contact with the metal wall tray is of no consequence. On the critical issue of whether or not the degree of force used was reasonable, all of the reports received in evidence and the testimony of Correction Officers Smith and Rando consistently indicate that the claimant was pushed against the wall only after the weapon was found and that the claimant responded by removing his hands from the wall. As stated by the Court of Appeals in Arteaga v State of New York (72 NY2d 212, supra at 220 [1988]), "[b]ecause of the unquestioned risks to inmates, employees, and the public from a breakdown in order and discipline in correctional facilities . . . it is particularly important that correction officers not be dissuaded by the possibility of litigation from making the difficult decisions which their duties demand . . ." Upon the proof presented at trial, it appears that the actions taken by Correction Officer Rando upon discovery of a weapon were both reasonable and necessary under the circumstances. Accordingly, the claim is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.


July 24, 2007
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]. Defendant's objection to the claimant's handwritten notation on the Interdepartmental Communication which was marked as claimant's Exhibit 4 was sustained.