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New York Prisoner Harassed and Assaulted by Guard Loses in Court of Claims

A New York state prisoner who was repeatedly harassed and assaulted by a guard over the race of his girlfriend had his case dismissed by the New York Court of Claims because the incidents did not take place “within the scope” of the guard’s official duties. 

On November 7, 2014, Ryan Cross said he was punched in the stomach by a prison guard named Payton, then denied medical treatment. The month prior, Cross had complained to prison administrators that he had been subjected to repeated harassment by guards who saw a picture of his girlfriend, who was black. 

Cross was by all accounts an upstanding prisoner. He had no misbehavior issues, no prior trouble with staff and took pride in his prison job assignment. When he complained to higher-ups about being called a “n– lover,” the sergeant he was speaking with told him that if he continued to complain, the sergeant would claim he had hit him and have him sent to solitary. Cross agreed not to pursue the complaint. 

Payton began terrorizing Cross after he spoke with the sergeant, which included punching him in the stomach and preventing him from transferring to a different unit. Cross tried to speak to a counselor about concerns for his safety on November 12, 2014. That same day, Cross was near his workplace when he was told to report inside. The only person there was Payton, who proceeded to viciously assault Cross for “snitching” on him, slamming his head against a wall and throwing him to the ground. Cross was so upset by the incident that he threatened to commit suicide. He was later transferred to another facility.

In a November 7, 2018 decision, the Court of Claims did not dispute that Cross had been assaulted by Payton on two separate occasions, nor did it dispute the harassment he was forced to endure. The court found, however, that “the State cannot be held liable for CO Payton’s intentional, unprovoked, assault” because it occurred outside the scope of his employment. “Since there are no facts to support a finding that CO Payton’s actions were in any way part of his duties to maintain order in the prison but, rather, in retaliation for Claimant’s complaints against him,” the court wrote it was, “unfortunately, forced to deny Claimant’s claim.” See: Cross v. City of New York, New York Court of Claims at Syracuse, Claim No. 125484, UID 2018-018-978. 

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Related legal case

Cross v. City of New York