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SIRA v. MORTON

April 17, 2003

RUBIN SIRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
R. MORTON, C. ARTUZ, D. SELSKY, AND G. GOORD, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Defendants, employees of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), move to dismiss the complaint filed by counsel on behalf of inmate Rubin Sira ("Sira"). Sira is challenging the legality of his placement in a Special Housing Unit for six months following the finding at a prison disciplinary hearing that he had organized a Y2K strike by inmates at Green Haven Correctional Facility. Sira contends that the misbehavior report on which the hearing was based was impermissibly vague and that the hearing officer's reliance on informant information was improper. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

Background

On January 19, 2000, Sira was served with a misbehavior report ("Report") that alleged the following:

During the course of an investigation into a planned inmate demonstration at this facility in which inmates would conduct a work/program stoppage on or about January 1, 2000, Inmate Sira has been identified through confidential sources as having urged other inmates to participate, organized inmates to participate and threatened inmates to participate.
The Report identified the incident date as January 19, the location of the incident as Green Haven Correctional Facility, and the incident time as 10:15 a.m. The question "Were other inmates involved?", was marked "No."

The Report charged Sira with violations of prison disciplinary rules 104.12 and 102.10. Rule 104.12 states that inmates shall not "lead, organize, participate or urge other inmates to participate in work stoppages, sit-ins, lock-ins or other actions which may be detrimental to the order of the facility." 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 270.2 (2003). Rule 102.10 states that inmates "shall not, under any circumstances make any threat, spoken, in writing, or by gesture." Id.

A Tier III disciplinary hearing was held and electronically recorded, beginning on January 26, 2000. At the initial session, Sira confirmed that he had been served with a copy of the Report on January 19 at 10:25 p.m. Sira was advised that the Hearing Officer would assess the credibility of any confidential source of information and the reliability of the information.

Sira noted the discrepancy in the Report between the incident date of January 19 and the alleged scheme concerning an event occurring on January 1. Sira objected that the Report was vague as to date, location (identifying the entire Green Haven Correctional Facility), did not identify who he had threatened, and did not identify any work stoppage that had actually occurred. Sira and the Hearing Officer discussed the fact that the prison had been locked down for a period of time and that thereafter many inmates had not attended their work assignments, or gone to the mess hall or to recreation. According to Sira, although the entire prison had been in "chaos", he had not violated any of the prison rules, and was where he was supposed to be on January 19. He specifically denied threatening or organizing anybody. He also denied urging anyone to participate in any violation of prison rules. He pointed out that after an initial period of adjustment upon his arrival at Green Haven, he had had a good disciplinary record.

On January 31, at the continuation of the hearing, Lt. Schneider testified in the plaintiff's presence that the plaintiff was a leader of a prison gang named the "Domincans", was essentially the "Captain" of "C Block" and that as a block "Captain" had enforced inmate participation in the Y2K demonstrations.*fn1 According to Lt. Schneider, Sira had been identified by several confidential sources during the period shortly before the lock down and up to the middle of January as having made threatening statements to groups of inmates who ended up participating in the strike. The prison was "locked down" from December 24 to January 5. Lt. Schneider explained that the charge was based on information gathered during an investigation that began on September 1, and was still ongoing, and that the Report bears the date January 19 because that was the date on which she "had made a determination" that Sira should be charged for the strike that had occurred at the facility.

After Lt. Schneider testified, the Hearing Officer took additional testimony and objections from Sira. Sira continued to protest that the Report failed to contain necessary information about the violation, including the date and location of the violation. He requested that he be told the substance of any confidential information upon which the Hearing Officer would rely, unless there was a finding that the disclosure would jeopardize the safety of an individual. The Hearing Officer informed Sira that he would assess the information provided by confidential informants.

In a proceeding which Sira did not attend, the Hearing Officer interviewed three officers regarding confidential information they had received concerning Sira's participation in the Y2K strike. Each officer described information received from one informant about Sira's participation in the strike. One officer's informant reported that someone else had said that Sira had been appointed as the captain of C block, with responsibility to enforce the strike. This informant had provided reliable information in the past when he believed that there were problems in the facility. A second officer described a letter he received from an inmate who had almost always provided correct information in the past. The letter indicates that Sira was involved in a demonstration by either threatening or urging other inmates to participate in it. The officer understood that the inmate had learned of this through conversations with other inmates, and had not witnessed Sira doing these things himself. A third officer described information received from an informant who had provided reliable information nine times out of ten in the past. This informant told the officer that he had seen Sira use strong arm tactics and threats of violence against inmates to coerce their participation in the demonstration during the final months of 1999. The Hearing Officer did not interview any of the officers' informants, but did make findings regarding the reliability of their information.

On February 8, the hearing continued. Sira objected again to not being advised of the substance of the confidential information reviewed by the Hearing Officer. Sira also pointed out that there was no record that he had ever refused to attend any program to which he was assigned, and that he had been incarcerated for almost seven years without any record of violence. Based on the testimony from Lt. Schneider and Sira, as well as confidential testimony and confidential documents, the Hearing Officer found that Sira was a leader of a planned inmate demonstration that had a detrimental effect on the prison. The Hearing Officer found Sira guilty of a violation of Rule 104.12, which forbids actions detrimental to the order of the facility, but not guilty of a violation of Rule 102.10, which forbids threats. Sira was sentenced to six months in a Special Housing Unit, a loss of telephone, packages and commissary privileges for six months, and a loss of six months of good time. Sira had not been informed about the existence and review of confidential documents until the Hearing Officer rendered his ruling.

Sira appealed the decision. Defendant Selsky, acting for defendant Goord, affirmed the decision. Sira's second appeal, filed with the assistance of counsel, resulted in a reversal on the ground that the "confidential evidence fails to support [the] charge." Since the plaintiff had already served the six months in SHU, the result of the reversal was essentially the reinstatement of six months of good time.

On February 28, 2002, Sira filed this action alleging four separate violations of the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.*fn2 The four alleged violations are a failure to (1) provide adequate notice to Sira of the charges, (2) provide Sira with evidence relevant to his defense, (3) assess the credibility and reliability of the confidential informants, and ...


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