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NY Prisoners Awarded Damages in Beatings

A June 4, 1992 incident at the Clinton Correctional Facility started when a prisoner standing in "rec line" waiting to be escorted to the keeplock recreation yard dropped a piece of candy on the floor. Several of his buddies started laughing and jostling with each other to get at the candy. The guards barked at them to "break it up," and two of the prisoners were told their recreation privileges were revoked and instructed to come to the head of the line. The two, Miguel Otero and Julio Villanueva, complied.

When they got to the head of the line, Otero was halted while two guards took Villanueva up the stairwell leading to F-Block. Halfway up the stairs, Villanueva turned his head to look back. One of the guards struck him with a fist to the jaw and dragged him into F-Block where they continued to beat him. Otero asked one of the guards what was going on whereupon he was struck on the shoulder with a baton. Another prisoner, Renaldo Graham, who had been standing near the head of the line tried to intervene and was grabbed by several other guards.

All three prisoners were taken to the hospital by separate groups of guards. It is the apparent custom of CCF guards to escort troublesome prisoners to the hospital, knowing that by the time they get there the prisoners will need medical attention.

Villanueva was handcuffed and shackled, thrown to the floor of the then empty F-Block, kicked, punched and spit upon by guards who used racial epithets. He was picked up, dragged to upper F-Block, thrown on the floor and kicked and beaten again. He was then dragged to an isolated mop room, thrown into some lockers and to the floor. By this time two Sgts. had arrived to "supervise" the beating. One Sgt. instructed guards not to hit Villanueva in the face with their batons, while the other Sgt. offered helpful tips like instructing one guard to lift Villanueva's arms up so another guard would have easier access to his back for more effective baton blows. At one point, guards removed Villanueva's shoes so they could inflict painful baton blows to the soles of his feet.

Villanueva was then taken to the hospital and placed on a bench. One of the guards and a Sgt. both instructed him not to say anything to the medical personnel about the beating or he would receive further beatings in the future.

Otero had a similar trip to the hospital. He was shackled and beaten by guards, rolled down a flight of stairs, and then taken to a small phone room. A Sgt. stood in the doorway supervising the beating. Apparently other guards lined up in the corridor, waiting in their version of a "rec line" for a turn to go in the phone room and get a few licks in. When Otero finally arrived at the hospital, he was warned not to say anything about the beatings on pain of future violence.

Graham was shackled and escorted to the hospital, while being kicked, punched and showered with racial epithets along the way. At one point they forced him to lie on the floor of a corridor while he was photographed and examined by medical personnel. After the examination, Graham was taken to an isolated area of the hospital, punched several times in the back and face, and bludgeoned about the head with a baton.

As a result of the assaults, Mr. Otero spent almost 10 weeks in the facility infirmary recovering from massive head and leg trauma, including a broken bone in his foot. Mr. Villanueva suffered multiple bruises, swelling and abrasions over his head and body, especially his face, back and shoulders. He also suffered from a perforated eardrum. As for Mr. Graham, he received multiple body and head contusions and abrasions and a serious deep laceration over his left eye.

The three prisoners filed §1983 actions in federal court and were ably represented by Michael Cassidy, a staff attorney for Prisoners' Legal Services of New York. The federal district court for the northern district of NY ruled in favor of the prisoner plaintiffs after a five day bench trial. The court stated, "To subject these plaintiffs to [this] type of treatment, particularly when in restraints, was not only excessive but cowardly..." Plaintiffs were awarded a total of $18,000 in compensatory damages, $13,000 in punitive damages, costs and attorney fees.

The "correctional" officers against whom the punitive damages were assessed are: Daniel Caron, Sherman Dubre, Jay Devan, Todd Parrone, Kenneth Waldron, Kris Bruno and Leigh Martin. The two sergeants are: Anthony Pavone and Harold Boyle. Boyle has since been promoted to lieutenant.

In a separate § 1983 action another prisoner, Nelson Cay, was awarded $14,000 compensatory damages for what the judge termed a "quick, efficient and savage beating" meted out by CCF guards. Cay had argued with one guard in the chapel and was escorted away. Following CCF "standard operating procedure" he was taken to an isolated room and administered a beating by a number of CCF guards. Cay was also awarded $1,000 in punitive damages to be paid by c/o Dubre, the same guard who had been ordered to pay $9,000 in punitive damages for the beating he gave Otero in the above case.

In a statement to the press, Prisoners' Legal Services noted that this case "shows once again that there is a very serious problem with guard brutality at Clinton. In the past six years eight different federal court decisions have found that 27 Clinton Correction officers have assaulted inmates. Many other claims of this nature have been settled before they went to trial. Until the Department of Correctional Services takes serious measures to address the problems of guard brutality at Clinton, Clinton inmates will continue to suffer from assaults carried out by unsupervised, uncontrolled correction officers."

The plaintiffs in this case were transferred to other prisons. As of the date of the above court decisions, all of the defendant guards were still employed at CCF.

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