The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge
Plaintiff, Pedro Bonet ("Bonet"), commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five correction officers, Sergeant Daryl Shaw ("Shaw"), Officer James Casselberry ("Casselberry"), Officer James Santos ("Santos"), Officer Rick Stroman ("Stroman"), and Officer James Moss ("Moss"), employed by the New York State Department of Corrections ("DOCS"). Bonet contends that the five officers used excessive force against him on February 3, 1998, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution while Bonet was confined at the Southport Correctional Facility.
Bonet originally filed his complaint pro se, but the Court did appoint counsel to represent Bonet for certain pretrial proceedings and at trial. Plaintiff waived his right to a jury trial and the case was tried before the Court for two days, commencing October 13, 2009. Bonet testified, as did all of the defendant officers. Numerous exhibits were received, including photographs, reports relating to the incident, and pertinent documents from Bonet's medical records. In addition, the Court viewed a video (Ex. 12) from a security camera which showed activities among Bonet and the defendants which occurred in the hallway outside Bonet's cell.
After considering all the evidence, I believe that plaintiff has failed to carry his burden, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendants separately or together violated his constitutional rights by using excessive force. It is clear that some force was used on Bonet, but I find that Bonet has failed to establish that the officers acted maliciously and sadistically for the purpose of causing him harm and injury. Rather, I find that the force used was not unreasonable and was necessitated to control Bonet who acted in a disruptive fashion, assaulting one of the officers, Casselberry, by spitting in his face, as the officers were about to escort Bonet to a disciplinary hearing in another part of the facility. This Decision and Order constitutes my findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 52(a).
It was established through testimony of plaintiff and the defendants that Bonet was confined to the Southport Correctional Facility. Southport is a unique, disciplinary facility housing approximately 780 inmates who are confined based on disciplinary sentences at other facilities. Virtually all the inmates are confined to their cells, 23 hours a day, with the most severe restrictions on movement and privileges. They are housed in what is called a Special Housing Unit. Inmates are confined, one inmate per cell and they receive, at their choice, exercise outside the cell for only one hour per day. Inmates take all meals in the cell and do not have contact with other inmates. One witness testified that Southport is considered a maximum-maximum security facility.
It was also established that in Southport itself, there are levels of restrictions. Certain inmates require more restraints than other inmates. Bonet was one of those inmates. He was confined in Cell Block D, the most restrictive, and he was classified as a Level 1inmate and had the most restrictions and the fewest privileges. Bonet was handcuffed to a waist-chain every time he left his cell. In addition, he was required to be pat frisked prior to any travel from the cell.
On February 3, 1998, defendants Casselberry, Santos, Stroman, and Shaw proceeded to Bonet's cell to escort him to a disciplinary hearing. It was not uncommon for several officers to assist in the process of removing an inmate from his cell and transporting him to another part of the facility.
Casselberry had no prior contact whatsoever with Bonet, but the other officers, who worked in the D Cell Block, knew plaintiff. In fact, Bonet had filed grievances against one of the officers, Officer Santos, a few weeks prior to the February 3 incident.
Normal procedure was followed in removing Bonet from his cell. In his case, because of a medical problem, Bonet was allowed to be handcuffed in the front ("front cuff order"), which was contrary to the normal practice of handcuffing behind the back. Bonet's handcuffs were secured to a waist-chain. Bonet was directed to back out of the cell and submit to a pat frisk, which he did.
The security video (Ex. 12) shows Bonet standing outside of his cell with his back to the four officers. Plaintiff testified that Casselberry, who was conducting the frisk, asked him to stretch his legs further apart but plaintiff claimed he told the officer he could not do so because of a prior injury. In any event, Bonet and Casselberry testified that Casselberry conducted the pat frisk.
Casselberry testified that during a typical pat frisk, the inmate is frisked starting at the neck area and proceeding to cover the inmate's entire body. It includes a touching or frisking of the inmate's groin area.
Bonet testified that he thought Casselberry touched his groin area in too firm a manner, and he objected. Casselberry and the other officers were unclear as to specifics, but it does appear that at least some were aware that for some reason plaintiff was unhappy about the frisk. The actual frisk is shown on the video. The time notations show that the entire frisk only took about 30 seconds. From my observation of the video, there appears to be nothing unusual about the pat frisk procedure, which was performed in full view of the security camera.
In any event, immediately after Bonet was directed to turn and proceed toward the hearing, he turned in the opposite direction and spat directly into Casselberry's face. From the tape, it appears that Casselberry was standing within inches of Bonet when this occurred. Not only did the officers testify about the spitting, but Bonet, himself, admitted spitting at the officer in his direct testimony, apparently because he was upset about the manner in which he was frisked. After the spitting episode, the video shows that the officers instantaneously grabbed Bonet and pushed him forward into his cell. The hall security camera did ...