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SMOAKE v. FRITZ

December 21, 1970

Earl SMOAKE, Plaintiff,
v.
Superintendent Harry FRITZ, Auburn Correctional Facility, Superintendent John L. Zelker, Green Haven Correctional Facility, Paul D. McGinnis, Commissioner, Department of Correction, State of New York, Defendant. David WALKER, Plaintiff, v. Superintendent Harry FRITZ, Auburn Correctional Facility, Superintendent John L. Zelker, Green Haven Correctional Facility, Paul D. McGinnis, Commissioner, Department of Correction, State of New York, Defendants


Croake, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CROAKE

MEMORANDUM

CROAKE, District Judge.

 This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and its jurisdictional complement 28 U.S.C. § 1343 by which plaintiffs Earl Smoake and David Walker have moved for preliminary injunctions restraining defendants from holding them in solitary facilities separate and apart from the general inmate population of Green Haven Correctional Facility. The facts of the case are as follows.

 I

 On the morning of November 2, 1970, a general slowdown began in the plate and tailor shops at Auburn Prison in Cayuga County, New York. Shortly after noon, a group of inmates took possession of the prison yard microphone to announce a Black Solidarity Day to the prison population and urge upon their fellow inmates, both black and white, that all prisoners refrain from working.

 To halt rising tensions, a half holiday was declared by the prison warden. This holiday was continued the following day by previous plan (November 3rd being Election Day). However, on the afternoon of Election Day, tensions continued to mount. That evening, the Warden ordered thirteen blacks who had been tentatively identified as taking part in the prison yard activities of the previous day temporarily confined to their cells as a preventive measure. Plaintiffs Earl Smoake and David Walker were among them.

 November 4th was supposed to mark a return to normalcy, but the work slowdown continued with inmates demanding the release of the thirteen prisoners and their return to the general prison population. The situation deteriorated rapidly as inmates began to seize control of cell blocks and take prison supervisory personnel as hostages. It was not until the evening of November 4th that full control over the prison was regained by the authorities. Shortly thereafter, the earlier mentioned thirteen prisoners were transferred to various correctional institutions throughout the state. On November 8, 1970, Smoake and Walker were transferred to Green Haven Correctional Facility where they were placed immediately in segregated quarters.

 The state contends that plaintiffs are not being kept in solitary confinement or punitive segregation, but rather are being kept in "administrative segregation." The difference though, is largely one of semantics. There is no dispute that plaintiffs are each confined to one small cell for twenty-three hours a day. At no time have they been allowed to mingle with the general prison population or participate in normal prison activities. They are denied access to the prison mess hall to the detriment of their strict religious diet, and may not purchase food in the prison commissary. Neither is allowed to receive Christmas packages. They must wear the same clothing for seven days at a stretch, are permitted showers only once a week, and are not supplied hot water with which to bathe in the interim.

 The official explanation for this segregation is that Smoake and Walker are being so confined pending an investigation of the disturbance at Auburn. Both have denied any participation therein and neither has been found guilty of any misconduct related thereto. Nor, for that matter, has either been formally charged with any such misconduct. It is thought by prison authorities though, that plaintiffs were among the prisoners who seized the prison yard microphone and addressed the inmates at Auburn on November 2nd. Also, it has been alleged that they participated in the disturbance at a later stage as well -- a charge which plaintiffs also deny.

 Pending termination of this investigation, the Green Haven Adjustment Committee interviewed Smoake and Walker once each. In each instance, it recommended that they be kept in segregation because of what was termed "a negative attitude" and "an unwillingness to conform to a program of rehabilitation." Of each, Warden John Zelker of Green Haven has stated, "Because of the attitude of this plaintiff, it is felt imperative that at this time he be kept separate from the general population. It is my judgment that the safety of this institution would be jeopardized if this plaintiff were to be returned to the general population."

 Still, the fact remains that for over five weeks Earl Smoake and David Walker have been kept in solitary confinement. No charges have been formally lodged against them by prison authorities, nor have they been found guilty of any wrongdoing other than that for which they were originally sentenced. There has been no promised end to the pending investigation. On the basis of these facts, plaintiffs' request that defendants be preliminarily enjoined from holding them in solitary facilities at Green Haven Correctional Facility is granted.

 II

 The first matter considered by this court in determining the instant motions was the question of abstention.

 This court has a strong belief in the principle that state courts are oftentimes the only proper authority to handle claims against state institutions, and certainly the undersigned has no desire to interfere with the orderly operation of these institutions in any way whatsoever. However, both the United States Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit have spoken in terms that are unmistakable on the question of abstention in matters ...


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