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New York Prisoner Awarded $56,000 for Beating

U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Scanlon (Northern District, NY) ordered two guards at the Clinton Correctional Facility (CCF) in Dannemora, NY, to pay $56,000 in compensatory punitive damages to former CCF prisoner Nelson Cay to punish them for their "sadistic and savage beating" of Mr. Cay in 1988.

Following a trial in September 1994, Magistrate Judge Scanlon ruled on April 28, 1995, the two guards testimony at trial had been "supercilious, condescending and evasive," and that their "lawless behavior which inflicted wanton injury upon [Mr. Cay] cannot be condoned." As a result of the beating, Mr. Cay suffered serious physical injuries, which included large areas of multiple bruises and contusions to his back, chest, right and left flanks, left foot and calf, right thigh, left wrist and arm, and right shoulder areas. Cay was awarded $14,000 in compensatory damages.

In an October 16, 1997 ruling, the Court awarded $42,000 in punitive damages, noting that as Burleigh and Dubrey "administered a savage beating upon [Cay], they called him a 'Puerto Rican Spic' and one threatened to kill him.... Society expects more from individuals placed in positions of authority, and a token punitive damages award would be inappropriate in this instance.'

This was not the first case in which a federal court has found that CCF guard Sherman Dubrey assaulted a prisoner at Clinton. In October 1994, another federal magistrate judge found that Dubrey had brutally assaulted Miguel Otero in June, 1992. That Court found that Dubrey, along with another guard, punched Otero as he lay on the floor, and that "they continued this assault, kicking, punching, striking with batons, all while shouting racial slurs while Otero was handcuffed behind his back." That Court awarded Otero $9,000 in compensatory damages and imposed $1,000 in punitive damages against Dubrey and the other guard [See: "NY Prisoners Awarded Damages in Beatings", PLN Vol. 6, No. 9].

Mr. Cay was represented by Michael Cassidy of Prisoners' Legal Services in New York. "We are very pleased with this decision," Cassidy said. "Our office has brought numerous cases on prisoners' behalf against guards at Clinton for excessive force. In the past eight years alone, ten federal court decisions have found that some 38 officers at Clinton have assaulted inmates. Many other claims of this nature have also been settled before they went to trial as well."

"In the many cases in which I have been involved and of which I am aware, the State has paid both the compensatory and punitive damage awards," Cassidy said. "It seems to me, at least with respect to the punitive damage awards, the purpose of which is to punish the officers and deter them and others from engaging in such unlawful behavior, that the State should not indemnify officers for these awards. They should personally suffer for their outrageous conduct by having to pay punitive damage awards. In that way, such awards might be an even more effective deterrent to this type of lawless behavior."

This is an unpublished ruling: Cay v. Burleigh , Case No. 89-CV-878 (ND NY 1997).

[Editor's Note: Dubrey isn't the only CCF guard to have more than "one strike" in civil suits for brutality. Because the NY DOCS does not fire prison guards after a finding in federal court that they have engaged in "savage and lawless behavior", the State sends an unambiguous message that it is willing to allow guard brutality to go unchecked and to continue socking taxpayers with the damage award payments for "repeat offender" guards.]

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Related legal case

Cay v. Burleigh