New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MEDINA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-028-010, Claim No. 106664, Motion No. M-71375


Inmate is awarded $1,500.00 for injuries suffered when correction officers used excessive force on him. Claimant’s testimony was credible.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant’s attorney:
Defendant’s attorney:
BY: Paul F. Cagino, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 2, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This is a claim to recover money damages for physical injuries Claimant suffered on August 13, 2002 at Clinton Correctional Facility, when, it is alleged, he was assaulted by correction officers and then denied appropriate medical treatment for his injuries.

At trial of this action,[1] Claimant testified that he arrived at Clinton Correctional Facility in June or July of 2002 and was housed in D Block. A few weeks later, he was involved in a disagreement with a Correction Officer Martin, which resulted in Martin filing a misbehavior report and confining Claimant to his cell. Claimant subsequently commenced an institutional grievance, and a Sergeant Eilers was assigned to investigate.

The sergeant came to Claimant’s cellblock around 7:00 on the evening of August 13, 2002. Claimant testified that when his cell door was opened, he thought he was being let out to go to the shower, so he emerged wearing a towel and carrying his toiletries. Correction Officer Jason Weir told him that rather than taking a shower, he was to go to the front of the 2 Company section of the Housing Block (Exhibit 1 [diagram]). He replaced his shower gear and Weir escorted him to the front, where Sgt. Eilers and a Sgt. Olsen were waiting.

Sgt. Eilers told Claimant that they were there to investigate his grievance. Claimant then “confidentially” asked if C.O. Weir, who he felt was displaying an “attitude,” could be asked to leave. Weir stepped away, and Claimant continued his conversation with the two sergeants. About one minute later, however, he was pushed from behind and thrown into a nearby garbage can. His feet were swept out from under him and he fell to the floor. Sgt. Eilers then put his boot to Claimant’s face, while the other sergeant said to him, “You need to learn some respect.” Immediately thereafter, Claimant was handcuffed, lifted up by the cuffs, and kneed in the stomach. When Claimant asked C.O. Weir for medical attention, he was told to “Shut the f_ _ _ up.” Claimant was then returned to his cell.

The following day, August 14, Claimant put in a sick call request (Exhibit 2) and he testified that during the next three days, he requested medical treatment from anyone who walked past his cell. He also wrote to Superintendent Senkowski on August 14 seeking medical attention (Exhibits 3, 3A) and was told by the Superintendent, in a memo dated August 15, that his request had been referred to the facility’s First Deputy Superintendent. Claimant finally received treatment on August 16. He explained at trial that he believed this happened only because his lawyer had come to the facility and made the request. At the infirmary, photographs were taken (Exhibits 4A, 4B) and medical staff noted that he had complaints of blood in his stool and a “raspberry” on the right side of his face. The Inmate Injury Report (Exhibit 5) describes the facial injury as follows: “Abrasion R side face, small cut less than 1/4" near L temple.” No treatment was provided for the cut and Claimant was given something to check his stool.

Testifying for Claimant was another inmate, Reginald McFadden, who stated that he was keeplocked in 2 Company, D block on the evening of August 13. From his vantage point, he was able to see Claimant leave for the front of the unit. He then observed officers bringing Claimant, who was handcuffed and screaming, back to his cell. When the officers left, he asked Claimant if he was okay, and Claimant asked McFadden to look at his face. The witness said that he observed a scar on Claimant’s cheekbone on the right side of his face and scratches on his right arm and right elbow.

Sgt. James Olsen testified for Defendant.[2] He stated that while he and Sgt. Eilers were interviewing Claimant regarding his earlier complaint, Claimant started threatening them, saying something like “Get me out of this block. If you don’t something’s gonna happen to me or I’m gonna have to kill one of you.” Sgt. Eilers concluded the interview at that point, but Claimant continued to issue threats. He testified that no one had assaulted Claimant at any time and that he did not hear Claimant make any request for medical assistance. Sgt. Eilers issued a misbehavior report charging Claimant with threatening staff members (Exhibit A). That report, which was also signed by Sgt. Olsen, contained the following description of the incident:
On the above date and approximate time, I Sgt. D. Eilers was interviewing inmate Medina [DIN number] about a formal complaint that he had filed. During the interview, he became slightly agitated and stated to me that “someone’s got to get me out of this place before it kills me or I kill one of you all.”
C.O. Jason Weir, who had been the First Officer for D Block, also testified. He stated that after he let Claimant out of his cell and escorted him to the two sergeants, he went to his desk in the “cage” and watched the other three conversing. They were in his view the entire time, he stated, and he never saw any assault or attack.

The final witness was Lt. Stephen Lacy, who investigated the events of August 13. He testified that when he interviewed Claimant in the infirmary, he said he had been pulled from behind and pushed to the floor and that one of the sergeants put a boot on his face. In the report subsequently written by Lt. Lacy (Exhibit B2), he stated that Claimant reported being kicked or pushed from behind, losing his balance, and having his feet swept out from under him. At that point he fell to the floor and “one of the Sergeants put his foot on the right side of his face and ground his face into the floor.” Lacy had also observed Claimant’s injuries, which he described as “an abrasion on his right cheek, and a small ‘pimple’ near his left temple.” In his opinion, the marks were not consistent with someone whose head had been ground into a cement floor. The lieutenant’s investigation also included obtaining written statements from the staff present at the relevant time (Exhibits B2-B7) and interviewing an inmate named Roland. Roland stated that there had been no unusual activity in the housing area on the day in question. Upon review of the investigative report, the facility’s Deputy Superintendent for Security Services, Jeffrey Tedford, concluded that no assault had taken place and informed Claimant that “your injuries are most likely self-inflicted in an attempt to support your spurious accusations and to discredit staff” (Exhibit B1).
A correction officer’s use of physical force against an inmate in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services is permitted when the inmate attempts to resist or disobeys a lawful direction (Correction Law § 137[5]). An officer must use caution and exercise conservative judgment, however, in determining whether physical force is necessary (7 NYCRR § 251-1.2[a]), and he or she may use only such degree of force as is reasonably required (7 NYCRR § 251-1.2[b]). Where excessive force is used by a correction officer, such action constitutes a battery and the State may be liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior (Jones v State of New York, 33 NY2d 275 [1973]; Stein v State of New York, 53 AD2d 988 [3d Dept 1976]). The trier of fact is to determine whether the force used was excessive in a particular situation, and relevant factors include the background and circumstances confronting the officers (Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800 [3d Dept 1996]; Hinton v City of New York, 13 AD2d 475 [1st Dept 1961]).

In determining whether excessive force was used, assessments of the credibility of the witnesses is often crucial (Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234 [2d Dept 1994]), and the finder of fact is charged with deciding witness credibility and resolving factual disputes (Vizzini v State of New York, 278 AD2d 562; Colangione v State of New York, 187 AD2d 844; see Savio v State of New York, 268 AD2d 907, lv denied 95 NY2d 758). The single most accurate method of determining the truth is the fact finder’s observation of the behavior and demeanor of witnesses as they testify (People v Carter, 37 NY2d 234 [1975], citing Matter of Nowakowski, 284 App Div 655, 657 [4th Dept 1954]; Amend v Hurley, 293 NY 587, 594 [1944]; Boyd v Boyd, 252 NY 422, 429 [1930]; Matter of Vincent H., 3 Misc 3d 900 [Fam Ct 2004]). Also relevant are the clarity and believability of the witness’ recollections, the consistency of their accounts given at different times, and the manner in which their testimony “hangs together with all the evidence in the case” (People v Martinelli, 117 Misc 2d 310, 311 [NY Sup 1982]; see also Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234 [2d Dept 1994]). “[T]he fact-finder is not required to credit a particular fact testified to by one or even six witnesses,” but instead should assess the likelihood of a fact being true “by the totality of circumstances surrounding the occurrence as well as by the ordinary laws that govern human conduct” (People v Collier, 85 Misc 2d 529, 553 [NY Sup 1975]).

At trial of this action, the Court had an opportunity to see and hear the witnesses and to assess the credibility of their very different accounts of what happened in the course of Claimant’s interview by Sgt. Eilers and Sgt. Olsen. It is undisputed that on the evening in question, Claimant was taken from his cell to speak to the two officers and shortly thereafter returned to his cell by them. It is also undisputed that on August 16 he had an abrasion and a cut on his face. As to what occurred during that short meeting and whether there was any relation between that meeting and the marks on Claimant’s face three days later, the accounts of the witnesses disagree almost completely and, thus, the Court is left to rely only on its assessment of the witness’ credibility. In the view of the Court, Claimant’s account of events was credible and supported by other evidence, even if he exaggerated to some extent the seriousness of the injuries sustained. In contrast, the testimony of Sgt. Olsen did not carry the expected indicia of truth and was at odds with the written statement of Sgt. Eilers that Claimant became “slightly agitated.”

Further, it did not appear that Lt. Lacy’s investigation into the matter was as much an impartial inquiry as it was a vindication of the actions of his colleagues. It was also not internally consistent. At one point in his report to Deputy Supt. Tedford, he indicates that he interviewed the only possible inmate witness, Roland, but two paragraphs later says that if the incident had occurred as described by Claimant “inmates reaction in the block would have been to such a point that would make a one-on-one escort back to the cell impossible” and that several letters of complaint would have been received (Exhibit B2). It is also noted that Tedford’s response to Claimant states that “inmates in the adjacent area were interviewed” when, in fact, Lt. Lacy had spoken with only one inmate (Exhibit B1). When Inmate McFadden testified that he had also been in a position to observe at least part of the incident, Defendant made no attempt to establish that this was not the case.

The Court finds that one or more officers used excessive and unwarranted force against Claimant on August 13, 2002, causing pain and suffering and non-permanent physical injuries and, further, that he is entitled to compensation of $1,500.00. To the extent Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11-a (2).

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

March 2, 2007
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. After trial was scheduled, Claimant brought a motion to compel Defendant to respond to two sets of interrogatories that he had previously served. One set was inappropriate, as it was directed to an individual. The second set, served on December 5, 2005, was promptly – and properly – rejected by Defendant as abusive of the discovery process, burdensome and irrelevant. Claimant made no effort for over three years either to seek the information by alternative means or to make a motion to compel. Consequently, Motion No. M-71375 is denied.
[2]. Sgt. Eilers, who had been transferred to another prison, was not called by either party.