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New York: $655,000 Award after State Found 100% Responsible for Prisoner Assault

by Douglas Ankney

A New York Court of Claims held the state was 100% responsible for a prisoner-on-prisoner assault that resulted in severe injuries, and awarded $655,000 in damages.

Perez Aughtry, 37, testified that around noon on July 27, 2012, he had finished showering and was drying off near the front gate of the bathhouse at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Guard Evergreen Wright was usually positioned nearby, but he wasn’t there at the time. Aughtry said when he bent over to dry his feet, a group of prisoners grabbed him and started punching, kicking and slashing him.

He was cut across his back and face, and screamed for help. After several minutes, the assailants released him and ran toward the back of the bathhouse. Then another prisoner, Terry Daum, arrived and handed Aughtry a towel to help stop the bleeding. Wright finally showed up, and Aughtry walked to the infirmary while bleeding profusely. He was taken to a hospital with “life threatening” injuries and received 91 sutures.

Aughtry testified that he experienced a great amount of pain, began having migraines, and his jaw started locking up due to a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) injury and nerve damage. The scars from the attack were “noticeable and disfiguring,” and following his release he had recurring nightmares and other emotional trauma. Aughtry presented evidence of numerous other prior assaults that had occurred in the Sing Sing bathhouse.

Wright testified that he was at the front gate, but had stepped outside for three or four seconds to get fresh air. When he returned, Aughtry was injured and bleeding. Wright admitted to hearing about several prior altercations in the bathhouse.Daum, however, testified that he and Wright were in the back office of the bathhouse smoking cigarettes when the assault occurred.

The Court of Claims wrote that in order to establish liability, Aughtry had to show the state was aware of foreseeable harm and failed to adequately address it, citing Sanchez v. State of New York, 99 N.Y.2d 247 (NY 2002). The court found that Wright knew about the prior violent assaults in the bathhouse and was negligent in “perform[ing] a recognized duty, with the highly foreseeable result and reasonable probability that this preventable harm would follow.” In an earlier ruling, the Court of Claims concluded that Aughtry had established by a preponderance of the evidence that the state was 100% responsible for his injuries. 

On May 22, 2019, following a trial on damages that included testimony by medical experts for both Aughtry and the state, the Court of Claims awarded $655,000. It noted that Aughtry did not seek economic damages, only non-economic damages for pain and suffering. The court took into account that Aughtry, who was an amateur boxer prior to his incarceration, was now boxing professionally – which would likely exacerbate his facial injuries and thus “reduce any potential amount of damages for the [TMJ] injury going forward.”

The damage award included $50,000 for past pain and suffering for Aughtry’s TMJ injury; $175,000 for past pain and suffering from the lacerations, scars and nerve damage to his face and back; $30,000 for future pain and suffering for his TMJ injury; and $400,000 for future pain and suffering from the lacerations, scars and nerve damage. See: Aughtry v. State of New York, Court of Claims at Albany (NY), Claim No. 123103. 

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Related legal case

Aughtry v. State of New York