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New York: $775,000 Judgment for Prisoners Searched in Freezing Weather

On August 14, 2018, a ruling by the New York State Court of Claims addressed ten consolidated claims that arose from an incident in which 15 to 20 prisoners were searched outdoors in windchill temperatures between -10 and -13 degrees Fahrenheit. The facts of this case were “overwhelmingly common,” the court found. 

In February 2013 at the Bare Hill Correctional Facility in New York, one prisoner was assaulted by another. The prisoner who was attacked, identified as Jenkins, was cut with a sharp object and taken to the facility’s medical unit. Around 15 other prisoners who had been present during the incident “were lined along a metal chain-link fence and ordered by the attending correction officers to assume a ‘pat frisk’ position, hands interlocked into the fence, bent at the waist with legs spread, to be searched for weapons. No weapons were ultimately found.” 

The prisoners were then made to “throw their hats, scarves and gloves to the ground,” and were forced to grip a “metal chain-link fence with their bare hands.” Due to the frigid weather, the fence was extremely cold. Many of the prisoners began “crying or screaming” as the search extended to 30 minutes. As a result of the below-freezing temperatures, many of the prisoners developed frostbite on their fingers and hands.

For past pain and suffering, the Court of Claims awarded a total of $775,000 to be divided among the claimants. Prisoner Jamel Weaver’s claim was unique due to the fact that his injuries required prolonged medical treatment; as a result, he received $100,000 in compensation compared to $75,000 awarded to each of the other nine prisoners. See: Gordon v. State of New York, New York Court of Claims (Albany), Claim Nos. 122585, 122682, 122683, 123003, 125536, 125734, 126025, 126026, 126047, 126049 and 126137. 

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Related legal case

Gordon v. State of New York