New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
TILLMAN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-015-129, Claim No. 123743

Synopsis

Pro se inmate's claim alleging the use of excessive force was dismissed following a trial.

Case information

UID: 2018-015-129
Claimant(s): GARRIEN TILLMAN
Claimant short name: TILLMAN
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 123743
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney: Garrien Tillman, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Honorable Barbara D. Underwood, Attorney General
By: Christina Calabrese, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: July 6, 2018
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Trial of this claim alleging the claimant was assaulted by correction officers at Great Meadow Correctional Facility (Great Meadow) was held on March 20, 2018.

The claimant testified that on January 11, 2013 he was in a room in a holding area at Great Meadow, explaining to several correction officers and a sergeant that he feared for his life if he was returned to his cell in F Block. As the claimant was arguing with the correction officers, Captain Eastman arrived at the scene and instructed the officers to remove the claimant from the room and return him to his cell. Upon entering the room Correction Officer Hanson and another correction officer pushed the claimant, who was handcuffed and wearing a waist chain, into the back wall of the room causing him to strike his face on a doorframe. The claimant was taken from the holding room and brought to his cell in F Block where he was thrown to the floor and then punched and kicked by Correction Officers Hanson, Martel and Cook. Following the alleged assault, a correction officer removed claimant's waist chain and fed the chain through the feed up slot in the cell door. Claimant testified that the correction officer then forcefully pulled his arms fully through the feed up slot, so that his face was pressed against the doorframe, prior to removing his handcuffs. Claimant denied that he resisted the officers at any point.

Claimant testified that a nurse was summoned to his cell and he was taken to the F Block strip/frisk area where he was examined. He sustained a one-half inch laceration on his chin and was subsequently taken to Albany Medical Center where he received five stitches. A report completed by Great Meadow medical staff also noted "contusions/scrapes" on the claimant's neck, elbow and shoulder (Exhibit 7). In addition, claimant asserts that he suffered nerve damage as a result of the assault upon him by correction officers.

Claimant was charged in a Misbehavior Report with creating a disturbance and refusing a direct order. He was found guilty of both charges on February 6, 2013 and a penalty including a period of confinement in the Great Meadow Special Housing Unit (SHU) and loss of various privileges was imposed. Ultimately, the hearing determination was reviewed and reversed on March 28, 2013 (claimant's Exhibit 3).

On cross-examination, Mr. Tillman acknowledged that the medical report received as Exhibit 8, which sets forth findings and determinations regarding claimant's complaints of weakness in his legs with tingling, is dated March 4, 2015, more than two years after the events which are the subject of his claim. He denied the facts as set forth in a use of force report received as part of Exhibit 6. He agreed that he briefly received mental health counseling from Dr. Slome in the SHU interview room, but denied that the doctor ever informed him he could return to his cell. He also denied that he at any time made a noose out of his clothing in an attempt to commit suicide. He noted in this regard that, at the time, his hands were cuffed and attached to a waist chain. Finally, claimant denied that he resisted correction officers and that he was issued a direct order.

The defendant called Ronald Hanson who testified that he has been employed as a correction officer at Great Meadow for the past 12 years. On January 11, 2013 he was instructed by his supervisor to take the claimant to an interview room after he had stated an intention to harm himself. Officer Hanson escorted the claimant to the Mental Health Unit where he was placed in a cell pending a mental health interview. Approximately 15 minutes later, the witness was instructed to pick the claimant up at the interview room and return him to his cell in F Block. Upon arriving at the interview room the claimant refused several direct orders to exit the room and Correction Officer Hanson notified Sergeant Stuart, his area supervisor. Soon thereafter claimant removed his shirt, tied it into the shape of a noose and secured it to "the top of the cage"(1) . At that time the witness was directed to enter the cell. Officer Hanson testified that when he opened the cell door the claimant "came at me" in an attempt to escape the interview room. The witness pushed the claimant to the rear of the cell, causing him to spin into the cell wall. According to the witness, the claimant never stopped resisting and was therefore taken to the floor. He was then removed from the interview room and Officer Hanson and another correction officer carried the claimant to his cell in F Block. In this regard, the witness explained that the claimant was dragging his feet the entire way between the interview room and his F Block cell. At claimant's cell, the door was opened and the claimant was placed on the floor. The waist chain was removed and fed through the feed up slot in the cell door. Once the door was closed the claimant attempted to pull the chain back through the feed up opening. Officer Hanson pulled the claimant's arms through the feed up slot in order to unlock and remove his handcuffs. Officer Hanson testified that the claimant was "resisting at all times".

On cross-examination the witness testified that his training instructs that he is to enter a cell and intervene if he observes an inmate actively attempting suicide. He denied forcing claimant's face into a doorframe in the interview room and stated that the claimant "charged" him as soon as the interview room door was opened. At his cell in F Block, the claimant was placed face down on the floor in order to remove his waist chain. According to Officer Hanson, the claimant was already dragging his feet, so he was placed on the floor in order to facilitate removal of the chain. The witness denied that he or any other correction officer kicked or punched the claimant while he was on the cell floor.

On redirect examination the witness testified that the Misbehavior Report charging the claimant was prepared by Sergeant Stuart and that it is common for such reports to be completed by an area supervisor. He also stated that the cell claimant was returned to was a "secure cell" which was locked at all times and from which any items an inmate might use to harm himself had been removed.

The law is settled that the State is not immune from liability for an assault and battery when an officer uses more force than is necessary to perform his or her duty (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 220-221 [1988]; Jones v State of New York, 33 NY2d 275 [1973], rearg dismissed 55 NY2d 878 [1982]; Barnes v State of New York, 89 AD3d 1382 [4th Dept 2011], lv dismissed 19 NY3d 949 [2012]). To recover under a common law cause of action for battery, it must be proved "that there was bodily contact, that the contact was offensive, that is, wrongful under all the circumstances, and that [the] defendant intended to make the contact" (Silipo v Wiley, 138 AD3d 1178, 1182 [3d Dept 2016] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). In the prison environment, the use of force is specifically permitted "in self defense, or to suppress a revolt or insurrection [and] . . . to maintain order, to enforce observation of discipline, to secure the persons of the offenders and to prevent any such attempt or escape" (Correction Law 137 [5]). As set forth in 7 NYCRR 251-1.2 [b], "[w]here it is necessary to use physical force, only such degree of force as is reasonably required shall be used." Assessment of the degree of necessary force requires consideration of the particular circumstances confronting the officers at the time the force was applied (Bush v State of New York, 57 AD3d 1066 [3d Dept 2008]; Koeiman v City of New York, 36 AD3d 451 [1st Dept 2007], lv denied 8 NY3d 814 [2007]; Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800 [3d Dept 1996]; Hinton v City of New York, 13 AD2d 475 [1st Dept 1961]).

Upon the evidence adduced at trial, the Court finds the claimant failed to establish the use of excessive force by a preponderance of the credible evidence. Correction Officer Hanson credibly testified that claimant refused several direct orders and resisted efforts to escort him back to his cell. According to Officer Hanson, claimant "charged" him when he opened the door to the interview room and Officer Hanson responded by pushing claimant to the rear of the cell where he was caused to spin and strike the wall. While Officer Hanson agreed that the claimant was placed on the floor of his cell in order to remove his waist chain, he explained that the claimant had to be carried to his cell because he was dragging his feet and refused to walk. He denied that he or any other correction officer punched or kicked the claimant while he was on the floor. Weighing the evidence presented at trial and assessing the credibility of the witnesses as they testified, the Court finds that the degree of force used by correction officers was reasonably necessary under the circumstances. Accordingly, the claim is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

July 6, 2018

Saratoga Springs, New York

FRANCIS T. COLLINS

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are taken from the audio recording of the trial.