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JONES v. HUFF

April 11, 1992

DONNIE JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
T.E. HUFF, W.J. LASARSO, and ARLO BAKER, Defendants.


Munson, Sr.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOWARD G. MUNSON, SR.

HOWARD G. MUNSON, Sr. J.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

 On August 16, 17, and 18, 1989 and on October 23, 1989 this court at the United States Courthouses in Utica, New York and Auburn, New York presided over the non-jury trial in this case. The parties' post-trial memoranda were filed on April 25, 1990. This Memorandum-Decision constitutes the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 52.

 In this case there is no question but that the plaintiff, Donnie Jones, suffered injuries because corrections officers beat him after he was insubordinate. Rather, the difficult questions in this case are whether defendant corrections officers Timothy Huff and William LaSarso engaged in gratuitous beating, or were present at the time that any unreasonable and excessive beating occurred and thus liable because they should have intervened to prevent such beating. In addition, there is some question as to whether the plaintiff sustained a fracture to the medial wall of his left eye as a result of his beating.

 I. APRIL 17, 1982: MOUNT MCGREGOR CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, WILTON, NEW YORK

 The plaintiff and the defendants agree on the events which commenced April 17, 1982, the date on which the plaintiff received injuries. On that day the plaintiff was incarcerated in the medium security unit of Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility ("Mt. McGregor"). On the morning of April 17, the plaintiff was involved in an altercation with other inmates as he was entering the prison mess hall. After breakfast the altercation resumed outside of plaintiff's dorm, B Dorm. A chase ensued and the plaintiff ran into and then back out of the dorm. Once outside, he picked up two rocks. He was stopped by a corrections officer before he could proceed further. In the melee, the plaintiff received a superficial cut. The nurse on duty at Mt. McGregor, Catherine Walsh, examined plaintiff in the prison infirmary and applied ointment to the cut. Trial Transcript ("Tr.") at 15-21.

 While plaintiff was still in the infirmary, a sergeant questioned him regarding the other inmates involved in the altercation. The sergeant then escorted plaintiff to the A Dorm holding room where he showed plaintiff identification photos in an effort to obtain information from plaintiff regarding the other inmates involved in the altercation. After he identified an inmate from the photos, plaintiff was served lunch in the holding room. Id. at 21-22.

 Following his lunch, plaintiff was escorted by defendant Corrections Officer William LaSarso to appear before a panel of the adjustment committee. The members of the panel were Nurse Walsh, defendant Corrections Officer Timothy Huff, and Lieutenant Richard Maxwell. Defendants' Exhibit ("Exh.") J, at 38. At the hearing, Lieutenant Maxwell brought up the fight and asked plaintiff to explain what happened. The adjustment committee listened to his explanation and then asked Officer LaSarso to escort plaintiff into the hallway while they made a decision. Tr. at 24, 446-47. Officer LaSarso brought plaintiff back into the hearing room, where Lieutenant Maxwell informed plaintiff that the matter would be referred to a Superintendent's proceeding, which is a disciplinary proceeding. The Lieutenant noted that plaintiff had bruises on his hands and asked plaintiff how he received them. Lieutenant Maxwell stated that he believed plaintiff had received the bruises during the fight. Tr. at 24; see Tr. at 293-94. Lieutenant Maxwell also informed plaintiff that he would be transferred to another facility. Tr. at 293, 447. Plaintiff got upset because he thought it was unjust that he would be punished for another inmate's conduct. Tr. at 25, 293, 448.

 Following the examination, Officer Huff informed plaintiff that he was to be placed in the A Dorm holding room. Tr. at 296. Huff and Lasarso escorted plaintiff out of the dispensary. A Dorm is located across from the doorway that led out of the dispensary. See Walsh Dep. at 21; Tr. at 296. Prior to leaving the building, plaintiff requested that he be permitted to return to B Dorm to collect his property. Officer Huff told plaintiff that he would not be permitted to go to B Dorm. Tr. at 296; see Tr. at 28.

 Upon exiting the dispensary, plaintiff turned left and headed down the covered walkway *fn1" toward B Dorm, contrary to Officer Huff's directions. Tr. at 296. Officers Huff and LaSarso ordered the plaintiff to stop, Tr. at 297; see Tr. at 77, but the plaintiff continued walking away from the officers in a determined fashion toward B Dorm. Tr. at 78. Officer Huff caught up with the plaintiff, reached out and grabbed one of his arms to redirect him, Tr. at 298, 455, while Officer LaSarso placed himself between them and B Dorm. Tr. at 455. At that point plaintiff swung around and punched Officer Huff, hitting him in the shoulder. Tr. at 298; see Walsh Dep. at 72; Defendants' Exh. J, at 19. Officer Huff fell down, but continued struggling with the plaintiff. Tr. at 30, 298-99.

 As Officer Huff and plaintiff struggled on the black top, Tr. at 30, Officer LaSarso approached and put plaintiff in a headlock on Officer LaSarso's right side. Tr. at 456; see Tr. at 32, 299. He punched plaintiff once in the right eye. *fn2" Tr. at 32. As he punched plaintiff, Officer LaSarso told plaintiff that he had just assaulted an officer. Tr. 31, 33. Officer Huff meanwhile placed a chicken wing hold on the plaintiff's right arm. Tr. at 300. Officers Huff and LaSarso then forced plaintiff to the A Dorm entry. Tr. at 398; see Tr. at 301. Another corrections officer, Officer Yearsley, opened the door to A Dorm for the three men. Id. Officer Yearsley also opened the door to the holding room. Id. Entering the holding room, LaSarso still had the headlock and Huff maintained the chicken wing hold on plaintiff's right arm. Tr. at 33, 301.

 Defendants' Exhibit F, the A Dorm log book, contains the following entry:

 1250 Officers Huff & LaSarso were escorting Inmate Jones back to Holding room when Jones swung at Huff. Both officers restrained inmate and put him in holding room. C.O. Yearsley hit Beeper for help - officers came[.] Inmate Jones would not strip frisk.

 The court finds based on this entry that Huff, LaSarso, and the plaintiff entered A Dorm at 12:50 p.m.

 The officers who were attacking plaintiff stopped and plaintiff received an order to take off his clothes. Tr. at 38. Plaintiff sat up on the bed and turned around. Tr. at 38. However, he apparently either refused to strip or was slow to act. Id.; see Defendants' Exh. F. As a consequence, several officers, including Officers Huff, LaSarso, and Warner, pulled and ripped the plaintiff's clothes off of him. *fn3" They forced him over on his stomach as handcuffs were brought in, *fn4" and plaintiff was then handcuffed, naked. *fn5" Tr. at 88. Officer LaSarso assisted with the handcuffing, and at one point caught one of his fingers in one of the cuffs. Tr. at 467.

 With the cuffs in place, Officers LaSarso and Warner pulled the plaintiff to his feet and had him stand facing the wall. Tr. at 309; see Tr. at 40. The court credits plaintiff's testimony that, after they brought the plaintiff to his feet, Officers Warner and LaSarso punched, slapped and kicked him when he was standing naked facing the wall. Tr. at 40-41, 88, 90. After a period of time, a sergeant entered the holding room and the beating stopped. The sergeant told Officers Huff and LaSarso to leave the room and go see the nurse. Tr. at 42, 309, 471.

 Officers Huff and LaSarso exited the room and went to see the nurse. Tr. 309-10, 471; see Walsh Dep. at 29. The sergeant also exited. Tr. at 42. After they left, the plaintiff was beaten further. Tr. at 42. Officer Warner kicked and hit the plaintiff at this time. Tr. at 42, 89-91. Indeed, plaintiff testified that Officer Warner attempted to kick plaintiff in the genitals as he stood, handcuffed, facing the wall. Tr. at 89-91.

 It is this court's finding that Officer Warner was the corrections officer who struck plaintiff the most. See Tr. at 89-91, 142-43. A report prepared by the FBI on July 21, 1982, is particularly telling in this respect. The Special Agent who interviewed plaintiff after receiving a complaint letter from him reported the following:

 [The plaintiff] was punched in the face . . . and someone hit him repeatedly. He indicated that the correctional officer who was hitting him repeatedly was leaving the position of correctional officer and was going to take a position in Texas approximately two weeks later.

 Defendants' Exh. K. At trial, plaintiff identified Officer Warner as the corrections officer who was leaving for Texas. Tr. at 142. Despite the role played by Officer Warner throughout the extended beating of the plaintiff, the court finds that the injuries plaintiff suffered are, at least in part, a result of the beating inflicted on the plaintiff by Officer LaSarso and in Officer Huff's presence.


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