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New York Prisoner Assaulted By Guard Awarded $4,200

On September 8, 2004, a court of claims in Buffalo, New York, awarded $4,200 to a state prisoner who was assaulted by a guard at the Attica Correctional Facility.

Juan Matias, a 36-year-old prisoner, claimed that he was assaulted by a prison guard in April 2002. (The guard was not identified.) A month earlier, Matias had become involved in a heated argument with the guard. Matias promptly reported the incident to the prison superintendent, noting that he feared retaliation. A sergeant investigated and filed a written report with the deputy superintendent.

As Matias proceeded to dinner on April 22, the same guard threatened him, Matias claimed. Matias immediately reported the incident to a lieutenant who said he would notify the sergeant. However, as Matias returned from the dining hall, the guard grabbed him by the neck and removed him from line, shoved his head into a wall, and punched him in the jaw. The guard then hit Matias a second time, causing him to fall. Once on the ground, Matias alleged, the guard kicked him in the back, forehead, and ribs several times.

Matias sued the State, pro se, for failing to protect him from the assault. Matias claimed he suffered a swollen right jaw, a lacerated forehead, and abrasions of his skull, abdomen, forehead, and back. Matias underwent physical therapy for the back injury.

The guard claimed that Matias failed to obey him when asked to step out of line. He further claimed that Matias struck him in the face with his right elbow and punched him in the chest and shoulders. After he grabbed Matias and both fell to the ground, the guard contended, other guards responded and helped subdue Matias.

At a bench trial, Judge Michael Hudson noted that because the state failed to produce any prison staff to corroborate either Matias's fear of retaliation or the guard's testimony--despite his cautionary notice--he was forced to draw adverse inferences. Hudson further noted the guard's animosity and aggressiveness toward Matias at trial. Additionally, Hudson found that Matias's injuries were consistent with his claims and that it was unlikely the guard would have bruised only his knuckles in a fall.
Consequently, Hudson ruled that the guard assaulted Matias without justification. The State was liable, Hudson held, based on respondeat superior and because it failed to protect Matias after he reported the guard's threat to a lieutenant, who agreed to act on it.

Hudson awarded Matias a total of $6,000 for past pain and suffering.
However, Hudson also found that Matias was 30% comparatively negligent because he hit the guard. Thus, the award was reduced accordingly for an adjusted total of $4,200. Matias represented himself at trial. See: Matias v. State of New York, Court of Claims, Buffalo, Case No. 106441.

Source: VerdictSearch New York Reporter

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Related legal case

Matias v. State of New York