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$8.9 Million Settlement Reached for N.Y. Prisoner’s Death Following Guards’ Baton Beating

by David M. Reutter


On February 13, 2024, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York gave final approval to a settlement paying $8.9 million from the state to the family of Terry L. Cooper, Jr. a prisoner who died after a violent clash with state Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) guards at Clinton Correctional Facility (CCF). The payout followed a $9.25 million jury verdict reached the previous November for Cooper’s estate, which its attorney called the largest-ever civil rights verdict in the history of the Northen District.

When he died on May 19, 2016, the 25-year-old had less than four years left on a 12-year sentence for robbery and assault. According to the civil rights complaint filed by his mother, Tracy Yvonne Cooper, who served as administrator of his estate, “He had every reason to want to finish his prison sentence without incident and return home to his loving family and young daughter.” But as Cooper headed to the CCF gym around 7:30 p.m. that day, he activated a metal detector. A pat-search of the prisoner by guards Patrick M. Clancy and Kolby M. Duffina found an address book containing sexually explicit photos. As they walked Cooper back to his cell to write him up, they were joined by guard Steven W. Wood. The closing statement to the jury by plaintiff’s attorney Joshua S. Moskowitz described what happened next.

Using at least one baton, the three guards beat the diminutive Cooper, Jr., who stood 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 117 pounds. Moskowitz displayed autopsy photos to point out linear “tramline” bruises on Cooper’s back where it had allegedly been struck with a baton. The complaint elaborated that Cooper told the guards he couldn’t breathe and needed his asthma pump. However, DOCCS had never provided him a pump, despite documenting his asthma. He didn’t get one that night, either, not even after he stopped breathing and was taken to the infirmary, where he died.

The office of state Attorney General Letitia James (D) defended the guards, who claimed that Cooper punched Clancy and Wood. As they tried to get him into restraints, they said that he kept resisting, so Clancy punched the prisoner twice in the upper torso. Yet guards remained unable to restrain him, they lamented, before he collapsed en route to the infirmary.

The jury decided that the guards were not credible, finding Clancy and Wood used excessive force in violation of Cooper’s Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Both guards, along with Duffina, were also found guilty of failing to intervene to stop the beating. The Estate was awarded $1.5 million for Cooper’s pain and suffering, $6 million for his loss of enjoyment of life and $1.75 million for monetary losses sustained by his daughter. The jury further found the Estate was entitled to punitive damages.

Plaintiff then filed for those punitive damages, and the parties proceeded to reach their settlement agreement, which included costs and fees for Moskowitz, plus his co-counsel also representing the Estate from Beldock, Levine & Hoffman LLP, all of New York City. See: Cooper v. Clancy, USDC, (N.D.N.Y.), Case No. 9:19-cv-00362.


Additional source: Albany Times Union

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Related legal case

Cooper v. Clancy