Claimant, Jamel Cooke, filed claim number 109415 on May 28, 2004, alleging that
the State of New York was negligent in failing to protect him from an assault.
I conducted a trial of this matter on May 27, 2008, at Auburn Correctional
Claimant testified that on April 19, 2004, while he was incarcerated at Auburn,
he was assaulted by other inmates as he was returning to his cell after
breakfast. Mr. Cooke testified that, as he left the mess hall that morning, a
number of other inmates got up with him. According to Claimant, these inmates
were all members of a prison gang known as the “Bloods.” They
pushed him along out of the mess hall and into the recreation yard. He was
surrounded so he rushed back into the D Block corridor, where he was followed
and assaulted. He stated that the Bloods had heard that his father was in the
music business and they were trying to extort money from him. The primary
assailant was an inmate he identified as Ramel, also known as
“Fingers.” During the assault, Claimant was slashed on the left
side of his face, and is left with a permanent scar.
According to Claimant, he met this Ramel approximately two days before the
assault. He was approached and was asked for money. Claimant stated that the
day before the accident he wrote to the Deputy Superintendent for Security and a
Sergeant Kuela informing them that he feared for his safety. He also stated
that one of the officers in his company had asked him what was going on between
him and the Bloods prior to the assault.
On cross-examination, Claimant admitted that there was no mention of the Bloods
in his claim and that, in his claim, he indicated that he did not know why he
was assaulted but believes it was to rob him of a chain or because they thought
he was someone else.
Also on cross-examination, Claimant indicated that he had only been at Auburn
for a very short period of time prior to the assault. Upon arrival at Auburn,
Claimant had indicated that he had no known enemies at Auburn and that, to his
knowledge, he did not need protection and there was no reason he could not be in
Defendant called Lieutenant Michael Ouimette in defense of the claim.
Lieutenant Ouimette was the watch commander, or ranking officer in charge of the
facility, at the time of Claimant’s assault. He testified that, although
Claimant claimed that the assault occurred at 8:00 a.m., he did not report
the incident to staff until approximately 1:00 p.m. that day. He indicated that
he could find no evidence that Claimant had given any notice that he was in
danger, written or otherwise, to any member of the Auburn staff prior to the
incident. He also indicated that there are always officers stationed throughout
the block and in the yard any time there are inmates moving from the mess hall.
According to Lieutenant Ouimette, Claimant’s testimony that no officers
were present would be impossible, as the officers were necessary to open the
various gates to let inmates back onto their respective companies.
The State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its
correctional facilities from foreseeable risks of harm (Flaherty v State of
New York, 296 NY 342), including the foreseeable risk of attack by other
inmates (Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State
of New York, 112 AD2d 562). The State is not, however, an insurer of the
safety of its inmates (Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv
denied 76 NY2d 711; Casella v State of New York, 121 AD2d 495), and
negligence will not be inferred from the mere happening of an incident
(Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719; Van Barneveld v State of New
York, 35 AD2d 900). The standard of care is that of reasonable supervision
(see Castiglione v State of New York, 25 AD2d 895), and factors to be
considered include whether there was a history of animosity between a claimant
and his attackers of which the State was or should have been aware (see
Hull v State of New York, 105 AD2d 961; Wilson v State of New
York, 36 AD2d 559; Hann v State of New York, 137 Misc 2d 605,
In claims arising from inmate assaults, the central issue is whether the State
had notice of the risk of harm and an opportunity to intervene in a way that
would have prevented the assault, but failed to do so (Huertas v State of New
York, 84 AD2d 650). In Sanchez v State of New York (99 NY2d 247),
the Court of Appeals explained that the State can be liable if the assault upon
an inmate was reasonably foreseeable and the State failed to take reasonable
steps to prevent the assault.
In this instance, Claimant failed to demonstrate that the State had notice that
a dangerous situation existed prior to the assault. Absent such notice,
unremitting supervision was unnecessary (see Hirsh v State of New York, 8
NY2d 125; Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, supra;
Carlino v State of New York, 30 AD2d 987, 988).
I find that Claimant has failed to demonstrate that his assault was reasonably
foreseeable or that Defendant was negligent in failing to protect him from the
unexpected and unprovoked assault. Additionally, when the only allegation
relating to notice is that Claimant had trouble with a gang rather than specific
known individuals, the State cannot be held liable (Savoca v State of New
York, Ct Cl, December 3, 2003 [Claim No. 98982], Ruderman, J., UID No.
Accordingly, claim number 109415 is hereby DISMISSED.
Any and all other motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or
which were not previously determined are hereby denied.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.