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New York Prisoner Awarded $5,000 for Assault by Cellmate

A New York Claims Court awarded a prisoner $5,000 for being assaulted by his cellmate. The Court found that prison officials knew or should have known that a threat existed and they failed to act to prevent it.

While incarcerated at the Upstate Correctional Facility, prisoner Michael Gonzalez was assaulted by his cellmate, Carlos Gonzales. The men are not related. The August 3, 2001 assault resulted in Michael receiving a scar on his chin.

Shortly after he was received in July 2001 at Upstate, Michael was double-bunked in a cell with Carlos. From the start, there were problems. Michael testified at the May 8, 2008 videoconference trial that Carlos “came in aggressive. He had a set way of how things were going to be as far as shower schedules, cleaning schedules. And if there was any dis-agreement between us, he got upset, argumentative, and aggressive. He would berate me verbally – a lot of belittlement – we argued a lot.”

In mid-July, Michael wrote a letter to Upstate’s superintendent, asserting Carlos tried to start fights with him and re-questing another cellmate. That letter was referred to Captain Racette, who responded on August 10 that a sergeant had investigated the matter and that it appeared Carlos and Michael were getting along, so a change was not necessary. Ironically, that reply came a week after Michael was assaulted.

On the day of the assault, Carlos had a misbehavior report for writing a letter that threatened the superintendent. That letter advised that Carlos had a bad temper, could not be double-bunked with other prisoners and that if he was not moved to a single cell, he was “going to do what I have to do.”

When Carlos came in from the hearing, Michael could see that Carlos was “anxious and irate and carrying on, and I felt the problem was reaching a head.” Michael asked guard Jonathon Price to take action to move him. Later that evening, Mi-chael was talking to Price about the matter when Carlos came up and hit him in the back of the head. After Michael fell to the ground, Carlos continued to punch him.

It was later learned that Carlos had numerous prior assault and violence violations in prison. Just a month before his assault of Michael, Carlos received one SHU confinement for assaulting his previous cellmate. Carlos had been involved in five cell fights and moved six times because “he feels he can’t be double-bunked.”

On October 2, 2008, the Court entered an order holding the state of New York liable for the assault and it awarded Michael $5,000.

See: Gonzalez v. The State of New York, New York Court of claims, Claim No. 10507.

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Related legal case

: Gonzalez v. The State of New York