Sedney Delano (“Claimant”) filed claim number 112508 on July 7,
2006. In his claim, Mr. Delano alleges that on November 19, 2005, at Five
Points Correctional Facility, he was assaulted by several correction officers
during a search of his cell. I held a trial in this matter on June 20, 2008 at
Auburn Correctional Facility.
Claimant testified that, on the day of the incident, he was waiting in his cell
for dinner. Claimant stated that he was a vegetarian and was to receive a
special, alternative dinner. According to Claimant, Correction Officer Anthony
Edick intentionally gave Claimant a diet dinner instead of his alternative
dinner. Claimant admittedly became upset and demanded to be given the correct
Claimant stated that Officer Edick gave him a new hot tray but refused to give
him a new cold tray. An argument between the two men ensued. According to
Claimant, Officer Edick became angry with him and told him that he would get
nothing because he complained. At this point, Claimant admits that he and
Officer Edick struggled over the hot tray that was partially sticking out of the
feed up hatch in Claimant’s cell.
Claimant’s testimony became a little confusing at this point. He
testified initially that, as he and Officer Edick were struggling over the hot
tray, Officer B. Ranger came to Officer Edick’s aid and the two officers
proceeded to assault Claimant by pulling his arms through the feed up hatch and
slamming the latch closed against his hands. At another point in his testimony,
he stated that he and Officer Edick were no longer struggling over the tray, but
that his arms were, nonetheless, outside of the feed up hatch as he was
discussing the matter with Officer Edick.
In any event, Claimant testified that the two officers grabbed his hands,
pulled him forward through the hatch and then slammed their body weight down on
the latch, smashing his hands and arms. Mr. Delano asserts that he sustained
permanent injuries to his hands and neck as a result of the incident. His claim
requested damages of $150,000.00.
Claimant called no witnesses but was very concerned that I review both the
written and audio version of the disciplinary hearing transcript relating to the
incident. He also stated that the incident itself was captured on videotape. I
held proof in this matter open to permit the parties to submit copies of the
videotape of the incident and audiotape of Claimant’s disciplinary
Both Claimant and Defendant submitted audio recordings of Claimant’s Tier
III disciplinary hearing and video recordings of the incident itself.
Claimant’s submissions, the hearing audiotape and incident videotape, have
been admitted into evidence as Exhibits A and B, respectively. Defendant
submitted two audiotapes from the disciplinary hearing and one videotape of the
incident. These have been admitted into evidence as Exhibits 7, 8 and 9,
respectively. Defendant also submitted two audiotapes which, while related to
Claimant’s disciplinary hearing, contain exclusively confidential medical
information. As they are not relevant to the issues at hand, those two audio
recordings are not being admitted into evidence.
In defense of this matter, Defendant called Correction Officer Anthony Edick.
Officer Edick testified that he recalled the incident clearly. He had gone to
Claimant’s cell to deliver Claimant’s evening meal. He recalls
giving Claimant his meal and then moving on. Claimant called him back, however,
complaining that Officer Edick had given him the wrong dinner. Officer Edick
testified candidly that he believes that he did give Claimant the wrong dinner
trays that night. He intended to simply make a switch for the right trays, but
when he took back the trays he had given to Claimant, he noticed that one of
them had been emptied of its contents.
For this reason, Officer Edick attempted to give the full tray back to Claimant
and told Claimant that he would return after he had served the other inmates in
the company who were still waiting for their dinners. Claimant became agitated
at being told he would have to wait and demanded to be given his correct dinner
immediately. Claimant held the feed up hatch open with the full tray and
refused to either give it to Officer Edick or take the tray into his cell.
Officer Edick testified concerning Directive 4933 which requires him, for
security reasons, to close the feed up hatch before he leaves the inmate. At
this point, Officer Edick could not continue with his duties because Claimant
refused to let Officer Edick shut the feed up hatch.
According to Officer Edick, once he finally got the tray away from Claimant,
Claimant continued to hold the latch open with his hands. He gave Claimant
several direct orders to remove his hands from the hatch. Upon Claimant’s
refusal, Officer Edick and another guard, Officer Ranger, physically removed
Claimant’s hands and arms from the feed up hatch and shut the hatch.
Exhibit 2 is Claimant’s disciplinary packet, which contains, among other
things: 1) photographs of Claimant shortly after the incident; 2) the use of
force report; and 3) the inmate injury report. A review of this exhibit, as
well as Exhibit 5 (Claimant’s certified medical records), demonstrate
that, despite his allegations to the contrary, Claimant’s injuries were
relatively mild; indeed, they were quite superficial.
I have also had a chance to thoroughly review Claimant’s disciplinary
hearing transcript, both the written version (Exhibit 1) and the recorded
versions that were received from both Claimant and Defendant. In addition, I
have reviewed videotapes, submitted by each party, of the incident itself.
Correction officers are charged with the unenviable task of maintaining order
and discipline in correctional facilities under stressful circumstances
(Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212). It is well-settled that
correction officers are entitled to use physical force in order
to achieve this goal, but "[o]nly such degree of force as is reasonably required
shall be used" (7 NYCRR 251-1.2 [b]). The limited circumstances in which
the use of force is tolerated by correction officers are set forth as
In situations involving inmate allegations of excessive force by a correction
officer, such as here, the credibility of the respective witnesses is often the
dispositive factor (Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234). To
determine, in a given instance, whether use of force was necessary and, if so,
whether the force used was excessive or unreasonable, a Court must examine the
specific circumstances confronting the officers or guards (see e.g.
Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800; Quillen v State of New
York, 191 AD2d 31; Brown v State of New York, 24 Misc 2d 358).
I note here that Claimant was intent on demonstrating first, that he was given
the wrong dinner, and second, that his arms were injured (however superficially)
when the officers tried to forcefully place his arms back inside of his cell.
Claimant did demonstrate these things. However, I find that the use of force
upon Claimant was completely justified. My review of the videotapes (exhibits B
and 9) and the audiotapes (exhibits A, 7 and 8) only reinforce the testimony of
Officer Edick. From the videotape, Officer Edick reacted calmly and patiently
toward Claimant. When this did not work, however, there was a struggle that
lasted several minutes. It was apparent to me that the struggle went on for
such a long time because the officers were attempting to force Claimant’s
hands back through the hatch as gently as possible under the
Claimant may have been justifiably upset that he was given the wrong dinner.
He had no right, however, to refuse to comply with Officer Edick’s
direction to remove his hands and arms from the feed up hatch. The force used
by the officers to enforce compliance with this lawful directive was necessary