New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WATSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-016-069, Claim No. 108156


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):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant’s attorney:
James Watson, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney GeneralBy: James E. Shoemaker, Esq., AAG
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 12, 2009
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This decision follows the trial of the claim of James Watson.[1] Mr. Watson alleges that on June 9, 2003, when he was being held in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”) of Sullivan Correctional Facility, the underlying disciplinary finding was reversed. He further alleges that thereafter, rather than being returned to the general population, he was put in involuntary protective custody, because an inmate named Walls who was on his enemy list (otherwise known as a separatee list) had recently been transferred to the Sullivan general population. Watson maintains that it was an error to transfer Walls to Sullivan since the two inmates were listed as enemies, and that once this error was discovered, Walls should have been transferred out or put in protective custody rather than claimant.

Watson testified that as of June 9, 2003, he had been at Sullivan for approximately eight months, and he described it as his “custodial facility meaning that this is the facility I’m housed at and it has my records.” He said that after the disciplinary finding was reversed, rather than being released to the general population, he was put on “the other side of the SHU” (presumably the protective custody area), and that after several days of complaining about being “in limbo,” he was given protective custody status. Claimant contended that since he had been at Sullivan first, he should have been released to general population and Walls should have been put in protective custody.

Both 7 NYCRR §330.3 and DOCS Directive 4948 (see defendant’s exhibit B) provide that an inmate placed in involuntary protective custody shall have a hearing conducted with 14 days in accordance with the provisions of 7 NYCRR Part 254. Watson testified that, “they stalled my hearing . . . There was no further hearing after that.” However, that was the extent of his testimony on the subject. He did not, for example, state when the hearing was commenced or continued. Nor did he provide any documentation as to the hearing.

Claimant testified that after his continued complaints (see, e.g., claimant’s exhibits 2 through 4), the matter was ultimately resolved 31 days after he was placed in protective custody when they “swapped” him with Walls, i.e., put Walls in protective custody and released claimant to the general population.

Watson maintained that while he was in protective custody, he was given “more liberties” than while in the SHU, but “there’s a lot of things that [were] curtailed.” He explained that unlike the general population, he was unable to go out to religious services, couldn’t make phone calls during the day, couldn’t use clippers to trim his beard and had to use a blurry stainless steel mirror.
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Defendant called Deputy Superintendent of Security P. Griffin, who had worked for the Department of Correctional Services (“DOCS”) for 25 years and had been Deputy of Security at Sullivan for two years as of the time of trial; Griffin did not work at Sullivan at the time of claimant’s confinement in protective custody.

Griffin testified briefly as to the distinction between privileges given to an SHU inmate and an inmate in protective custody. He said, for example, that a protective custody inmate has a minimum of three hours out of cell time, unlike an SHU inmate, who has only one hour of outdoor exercise. He added that protective custody inmates are permitted to use the commissary and receive packages. He described the privileges of protective custody inmates as “really different from inmates in special housing,” pointing to DOCS Directive 4948 (defendant’s exhibit B).

Griffin also testified with regard to the placement of inmates. He said that DOCS personnel in Albany make a determination based on many different factors as to where an inmate will be housed, including whether he will be placed in or moved out of protective custody. Griffin explained that with regard to involuntary protective custody, placement there is largely because of separatee issues. With regard to Watson and Walls, he explained that as separatees, both were seen as potential victims of each other. Griffin also said that one factor in deciding which of two separatee inmates goes into protective custody is the number of separatees that he has. Griffin noted that Watson had 52 names on his separatee list (see defendant’s exhibit A).
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While claimant clearly suffered a loss of privileges while in protective custody vis-a-vis being in the general population, 7 NYCRR §330.1 et seq. and DOCS Directive 4948 both provide that inmates who are potential victims may be placed in involuntary protective custody. As set forth above, as separatees Watson and Walls were each seen as potential victims of the other. Claimant failed to demonstrate that there was a violation of any applicable rule or regulation or that defendant was otherwise negligent. In view of the foregoing, claim no. 108156 is dismissed.


January 12, 2009
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

  1. [1]At trial, claimant’s exhibit 1, an affidavit of inmate Samuel C. Walls, was marked for identification only. Such document will not be admitted into evidence. In addition, various documents were submitted by the parties at trial, but were not admitted into evidence at the time. They will be designated as follows and are admitted into evidence: Claimant’s exhibit 2 is a June 12, 2003 Sullivan Correctional Facility Involuntary Protective Custody Recommendation. Claimant’s exhibit 3 is a June 24, 2003 letter from claimant to Superintendent J. Walsh. Claimant’s exhibit 4 is a June 12, 2003 letter from claimant to Deputy Superintendent of Security K. Decker. Claimant’s exhibit 5 is a July 7, 2003 letter from claimant to Mr. Decker. Defendant’s exhibit A is claimant’s separatee list. Defendant’s exhibit B is New York State Department of Correctional Services (“DOCS”) directive 4948.