This claim involves allegations of negligent supervision of correction officers
at Woodbourne Correctional Facility. As a direct result of this alleged
negligent supervision, claimant, at the time an inmate at the facility, alleges
that he suffered personal injuries during a large brawl which occurred shortly
after midnight on June 28, 1997.
The trial of this claim was bifurcated, and this decision therefore addresses
solely the issue of liability.
Claimant testified that the fight in which he was injured erupted following a
physical confrontation between two other inmates, Pedro Baez, and Curtis Moore.
He testified that these two inmates had been feuding throughout the previous
day, June 27, 1997, and that as a member of the Inmate Liaison Committee at the
facility, he had spoken to each of these inmates throughout that day and
counseled them against any fighting.
Later that evening, claimant was in the recreation room (referred to as the
“day room”) of his housing unit with approximately 60 other inmates,
including inmates Baez and Moore. It is noted that Woodbourne Correctional
Facility is a medium security facility with dormitory housing, and that the day
room was equipped with two televisions, which the inmates were permitted to
watch past midnight. Since Woodbourne is a medium security facility, inmates
are not locked in their cells, but reside in
Claimant testified that shortly after midnight on June 28th, inmates Baez and
Moore again exchanged words and a fight between the two inmates appeared likely.
Claimant testified that the exchange between inmates Baez and Moore was observed
by Correction Officer John Bankich, who was on duty in the day room at the time.
According to claimant, Correction Officer Bankich approached the inmates, asked
them if there was any problem between them, and that the inmates responded
negatively. Correction Officer Bankich then directed the inmates to stay away
from each other. Claimant testified that inmate Moore then left the day room,
and that Correction Officer Bankich left the room immediately after inmate
According to claimant, approximately 10 minutes later, and before Correction
Officer Bankich returned to the day room, a huge fight began, involving most, if
not all, of the inmates in the day room. Claimant testified that he was stabbed
in the arm by another inmate, leaving him no choice but to defend himself, and
he therefore admittedly at that time became involved in this brawl. Claimant
then testified that several minutes later, Correction Officer Bankich,
accompanied by Correction Officer Timothy Edwards, returned to the day room and
eventually restored order. Claimant identified his assailant as inmate Jamal
Miller, with whom, he stated, had had no problems or difficulties prior to this
Inmates Louis Garrestequi and Ramon Medina also testified on behalf of
claimant. Although there was some discrepancy in the testimony of these two
witnesses, as well as that of the claimant, as to the length of time that inmate
Moore and Correction Officer Bankich were absent from the day room, the
testimony of inmates Garrestequi and Medina substantially corroborated
claimant’s testimony as to the events which transpired. In essence,
inmates Garrestequi and Medina confirmed that inmates Baez and Moore had an
ongoing dispute which had started the day before this incident occurred, that
inmate Miller had left the day room before the fight occurred, that Correction
Officer Bankich was not present in the day room when the fight broke out, and
that he had been absent from the day room for several minutes prior thereto.
These witnesses also added that shortly after inmate Moore left the day room, he
had rushed back into the room with at least two other inmates and began to
attack inmate Baez, precipitating the large scale fight.
Correction Officer Bankich also testified at trial, and his testimony, to a
large extent, mirrored that of the claimant and his witnesses. Officer Bankich
was on duty in the recreation area on the night of the incident and had noticed
words being exchanged by inmates Baez and Moore. He testified that after
observing the two inmates, he approached them and ordered the two inmates to
stay away from each other for the balance of the night, and then ordered inmate
Moore to go back to his “cube” in the dorm area. Although claimant
had testified that Officer Bankich had left the day room immediately after
inmate Moore, Officer Bankich testified that he remained in the day room for
approximately two minutes after inmate Moore’s departure, and then left
the room to advise Correction Officer Edwards of what had just occurred and that
there was potential for trouble between inmates Baez and Moore. Officer Edwards
was on duty at the correction officers’ station at the end of the hallway
leading from the day room to the dorm area. While discussing this matter with
Officer Edwards, Officer Bankich testified that inmate Moore, alone, ran past
them back into the day room. Officer Bankich testified that he and Officer
Edwards immediately pursued inmate Moore, but when they arrived at the day room
the fight had already broken out, with numerous inmates involved. Officer
Bankich testified that he personally observed claimant fighting with another
inmate, and that claimant was throwing chairs.
Officer Bankich testified that despite their orders to stop, the fight
escalated to such an extent that he pulled his personal security pin to request
assistance. Eventually, order was restored.
The testimony of Correction Officer Edwards substantially corroborated the
testimony of Officer Bankich.
As indicated previously, there is some discrepancy in the testimony of each of
the witnesses as to the length of time that Officer Bankich had left the day
room unattended while he went to speak with Officer Edwards. Additionally,
Officer Bankich and Officer Edwards both testified that inmate Moore was alone
when he ran past them back into the day room, while claimant’s witnesses
testified that inmate Moore was accompanied by at least two other inmates.
Notwithstanding this divergent testimony, however, the testimony is undisputed
that inmates Baez and Moore had exchanged words in the day room before the fight
occurred, and that Officer Bankich had approached those two inmates and issued
them a warning. Testimony further establishes, without dispute, that inmate
Moore then left the day room (whether or not he was ordered to do so by Officer
Bankich), and that Officer Bankich, at some point in time shortly thereafter,
also left the day room. Furthermore, there is no dispute whatsoever that the
fight broke out while Officer Bankich was not present in the day room.
Based on these facts, claimant alleges that the State was negligent in failing
to adequately supervise those inmates in the day room, specifically contending
that Officer Bankich was negligent in leaving the day room unattended.
It is well settled that the State, which has “assumed physical custody of
inmates, who cannot protect and defend themselves in the same way as those at
liberty can,” owes a duty of care to safeguard inmates in its penal
institutions (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 252). This duty
of care requires the State to provide inmates with reasonable protection against
foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates (Flaherty v State of New
York, 296 NY 342; Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878). The
State, however, is not an insurer of inmate safety, and the fact that an assault
occurred does not, in and of itself, give rise to an inference of negligence
(Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562; Padgett v State of New
York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711). Rather, “the scope
of the State’s duty to protect inmates is limited to risks of harm that
are reasonably foreseeable” (Sanchez v State of New York, supra at
253). In Sanchez, the Court of Appeals held that foreseeable risks in
inmate-on-inmate assault cases included circumstances which should reasonably be
perceived, as well as those that were actually known, to the State.
In the instant case, all of the testimony established that Officer Bankich was
not in the day room at the time that this brawl commenced. Officer Bankich even
testified himself that he had left the room to speak with Correction Officer
Edwards at his desk, and that the fight had begun by the time that he returned
to the day room. However, the fact that a correction officer is not present at
the precise time and place when an assault occurs does not, in and of itself,
give rise to an inference of negligence (Colon v State of New York, 209
AD2d 842). Therefore, the issue for resolution in this claim is whether Officer
Bankich was negligent in leaving his post, under circumstances of which he was,
or should have been, aware.
Based upon the testimony at trial, there is no dispute that inmates Baez and
Moore had been feuding throughout the day before this fight erupted. According
to claimant’s testimony, and that of his fellow inmates who testified at
trial, the ongoing dispute between inmates Baez and Moore was common knowledge.
However, although claimant testified that he spoke with both inmates Baez and
Moore during the day and counseled them against any fighting, he admittedly did
not speak to any correction officers regarding this situation. Similarly,
inmates Garrestequi and Medina also testified that even though they were aware
of the potential for violence between inmates Baez and Moore, they also did not
report this to correction officers. In short, there is no evidence or testimony
whatsoever to establish that any correction officers, including Correction
Officer Bankich, were aware of the simmering dispute between inmates Baez and
Moore prior to the time when Officer Bankich spoke to these two inmates in the
day room as they were exchanging words.
Significantly, there is also no dispute that when Officer Bankich noticed
inmates Baez and Moore exchanging words in the day room, he approached the two
inmates and, according to his testimony, asked the inmates if there was any
problem, to which they responded negatively. Furthermore, there is no dispute
that immediately following this exchange, inmate Moore left the day room to
return to his dormitory cube. This fact certainly corroborates Officer
Bankich’s testimony that he instructed the two inmates to stay away from
each other, and that he directed inmate Moore to leave the day room and return
to his cell.
Since there was no testimony or evidence to indicate that Officer Bankich had
any knowledge that inmates Baez and Moore had been feuding throughout the day,
or that inmates in the day room were preparing for a brawl, the Court finds that
Officer Bankich took appropriate and reasonable action to resolve a potentially
hostile confrontation. In particular, after inmate Moore left the day room,
there was no reason for Officer Bankich to believe that the potential for
violence among those inmates who remained in the day room still existed.
Furthermore, the Court notes that even though claimant and his two inmate
witnesses all testified as to the potential for violence between inmates Baez
and Moore, none of those inmates provided any testimony whatsoever that a large
scale brawl or fight was brewing. Without some sort of notice, either actual or
constructive, there is simply no proof that the correction officers knew, or
should have known, of the potential for the brawl which eventually occurred.
Without any such notice, the Court therefore finds that Officer Bankich was not
negligent when he left the day room, after inmate Moore had in fact left the
room, to discuss the situation with Officer Edwards. Furthermore, there was no
reason for Officer Bankich to expect that inmate Moore would defy his direct
order and rush back to the day room to engage in, or even precipitate, the brawl
Based on the evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that claimant has
failed to establish that the defendant had notice, either actual or
constructive, of the potential brawl in which claimant was injured. Since this
Court has found no basis on which the correction officers, including Correction
Officer Bankich, could reasonably have anticipated such a brawl occurring, and
since inmate Valasquez admittedly suffered his injuries in this brawl, the Court
finds that claimant has failed to establish that the State breached its duty to
provide reasonable protection to claimant in this matter.
This claim, therefore, must be dismissed.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.