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Williams v. Russo

January 23, 2009

FREDERICK L. WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PETER RUSSO AND TED THOMAS DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which Plaintiff contended that Defendants violated his rights as guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was tried before the Court without a jury on January 12, 2009, and January 14, 2009. Plaintiff and both Defendants, Corrections Officer Ted Thomas ("Thomas") and now retired Corrections Officer Peter Russo ("Russo"), testified at trial. The only other testimony was offered by Plaintiff's witness, Shawn Bolton, who testified via video conferencing from Clinton Correctional Facility. The Court, having considered the testimony of the witnesses and exhibits received into evidence, now, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 58 (c), makes its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

FINDINGS OF FACT

On August 24,1998, Plaintiff was an inmate at the Wende Correctional Facility ("Wende"), residing in the Protective Custody Unit. The Protective Custody Unit was located on E Block at Wende. At about 3:45 p.m., at their request, Plaintiff and five other inmates were taken to the day room on E Block to eat evening meal. The day room was about 15 1/2 feet by 15 1/2 feet with two windows and one door. There was a window in the door that measured 12 inches by 9 inches. Inside the day room was a television, which was bolted to the wall, and three tables, which were bolted to the floor, with three to four chairs bolted to each table. Outside the room was a narrow hallway with a desk. Thomas and Russo were on duty outside the door to the day room and responsible for the care, custody, and control of the inmates within the room. Prior to the inmates arriving, Thomas and Russo had placed the food in the day room, and after the inmates entered the day room, Thomas closed and locked the door. One of the inmates in the Protective Custody Unit who was eating in the day room with Plaintiff was David Garcia. Earlier that day, prior to evening meal in the day room, Plaintiff and Garcia had gotten into an argument over cigarettes.

Once inside the day room, after the door was closed and locked, Garcia approached Plaintiff, who was at the time talking to inmates Shawn Bolton and Albert Lynch. Obscenities were exchanged between Plaintiff and Garcia, and then Garcia swung at plaintiff, and the two began fighting. Within seconds of the fight breaking out, Garcia pulled out a Plexiglass shank from his pocket and cut Plaintiff above his right eye, and then, again within seconds of the fight breaking out, Garcia stabbed Plaintiff in the neck. Nonetheless, Plaintiff was able to get Garcia to the ground and was able to hold him down until the fight was broken up by corrections staff. As a result of the altercation, Plaintiff sustained bleeding from cuts to his eye and neck, and he also sustained bruises and bumps to his knee. Prior to the fight occurring, neither Russo or Thomas was aware of any problems between Plaintiff and Garcia, or that Garcia posed any risk whatsoever to Plaintiff When the fight between Plaintiff and Garcia commenced in the day room, both Russo and Thomas, who remained positioned outside the room, heard thumping coming from within the room. Upon hearing the thumping, Thomas, who was closer to the door to the day room than Russo, looked inside the room through the window in the door and observed Plaintiff and Garcia fighting. Other inmates in the day room, however, were standing in front of Thomas as he attempted to view what was occurring from his vantage point outside the room. Thomas did not see any weapon or any blood. After looking inside the day room, Thomas turned around to Russo and said there was a fight.

Russo, who based upon his experience as a corrections officer, instinctively concluded, when he heard the thumping sound, that a fight was occurring inside the day room, immediately summoned for help by yelling, "fight, fight, fight" into his radio transmitter. Russo also the "pulled the pin" on his personal alarm system, activating an automated call for assistance. He then ran to open the door that separates the second and third floors, so that responding officers could access the area where the break room was located. Russo then quickly returned to the break room where Thomas remained positioned outside yelling "stop it," or "break it up." Russo looked inside the room through the window in the door. Four inmates were standing directly in front of him on the other side of the door. Russo could not see Defendant or Garcia, and he did not observe any weapons or blood.

About one to two minutes after Russo called and signaled for help, approximately a dozen corrections officers, including the supervising sergeant for the area, arrived at the day room. The area sergeant directed that the door to the day room be opened and corrections officers entered the room. Russo and Thomas were not among the officers who initially entered the room. The area sergeant directed Plaintiff and Garcia to stop fighting and both complied.

During the one to two minutes that it took responding officers to arrive at the day room from the time Russo called and signaled for help, after he and Thomas heard the thumping and Thomas had seen Plaintiff and Garcia fighting, neither Thomas nor Russo entered to the day room to attempt to stop the altercation. This was because both Russo and Thomas, based upon their training and experience, believed that it would have been unsafe to do so. There were six inmates and only two officers, Russo and Thomas, had on their persons keys to E Block. Had they entered, they would have placed their lives in danger, as well jeopardized the security of E Block. Russo and Thomas considered that the fight could have been staged, and, if they entered the day room, they could have then been overpowered by the six inmates inside the room. Moreover, there was no overriding reason to enter into the day room before help arrived, since neither Russo nor Thomas observed any weapon or bleeding.

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

The Eighth Amendment proscribes the "'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'" on prisoners by prison officials. Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 861 (2d Cir.1997) (quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319, 106 S.Ct. 1078, 1084, 89 L.Ed.2d 251 (1986)). It also imposes on prison officials "a duty ... to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 1976, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted). A prisoner injured while in custody may recover for violation of his Eighth Amendment rights if the injury resulted from the defendant prison official's purposeful subjection of the prisoner to a "substantial risk of serious harm" or from the official's deliberate indifference to that risk. Id. at 834, 114 S.Ct. at 1977; Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 856 (2d Cir. 1996).

Fischl v. Armitage, 128 F.3d 50, 55 (2d Cir. 1997). Moreover,

Although "[a] correctional officer's presence at an attack of an inmate, where he does nothing to stop an assault, may be sufficient to establish a claim under Section 1983," Dresdner v. Brockton (citing Morales v. New York State Department of Corrections, 842 F.2d 27 (2d Cir. 1988)), an isolated omission to act by a state prison guard must be accompanied by evil intent, recklessness, or at least deliberate indifference to the consequences of the conduct. Bass v. Jackson, 790 F.2d 260, 262-63 (2d Cir. 1986) (quoting Ayers v. Coughlin, 780 F.2d 205, 209 (2d Cir.1985); Williams v. Vincent, 508 F.2d 541, 546 (2d Cir. 1974)). The defendant must also be shown to have had "an extended opportunity to stop the attack but failed to take any action to do so." Ruccov. Howard, 1993 WL 299296 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 1993) (citing Williams, 508 F.2d at 546).

Desulma v. City of New York, No. 98 Civ. 2078 (RMB) (RLE), 2001 WL 798002, 7 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 6, 2001) (emphasis added) adopted by district ...


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