Strong v. State, 2021-51295

CourtNew York Court of Claims
Writing for the CourtWALTER RIVERA JUDGE OF THE COURT OF CLAIMS
PartiesSteven Strong, Claimant, v. The State of New York, Defendant.
Docket NumberClaim 128320,2021-51295
Decision Date20 December 2021

Steven Strong, Claimant,
v.

The State of New York, Defendant.

No. 2021-51295

Claim No. 128320

Court of Claims

December 20, 2021


Unpublished Opinion

For Claimant: ANDREW F. PLASSE & ASSOCIATES, LLP By: Andrew F. Plasse, Esq.

For Defendant: LETITIA JAMES Attorney General for the State of New York

By: Elizabeth A. Gavin, Assistant Attorney General

WALTER RIVERA JUDGE OF THE COURT OF CLAIMS

Decision

The trial of this claim on liability only was heard on May 20, May 21 and June 22, 2021 via video-conferencing technology. [1] Claimant testified on his own behalf from Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing") where he is incarcerated. Claimant's Exhibits 1 through 4 were received into evidence on stipulation. Defendant presented the testimony of Harold Meyers and Superintendent Michael Capra. Defendant's Exhibits A through F and H were received into evidence. The executed virtual trial stipulation was received into evidence as Court's Exhibit 1.

Claimant's Case

Claimant testified on direct examination that on December 17, 2015, he was returning from "chow" at Green Haven Correctional Facility (Green Haven) and as soon as he walked onto the gallery, another incarcerated individual assaulted him and cut his face (T 5/20: 11). [2] Claimant was injured and rendered unconscious (T 5/20: 11-12). After the incident claimant learned that his attacker's name was C.W. [3] Claimant had been incarcerated at Green Haven for approximately two and one half years and had not previously seen C.W. (T 5/20: 9-10).

Claimant testified on cross-examination that prior to the incident he did not interact with C.W. and he had no reason to fear that C.W. would attack him (T 5/20: 13). Claimant denied being a gang member in 2015, but admitted a prior gang affiliation in a "block situation" (T 5/20: 14-15). On June 15, 2015, he received a misbehavior report for possessing gang materials and he pleaded guilty. He explained that he was in possession of the materials because he was writing a book about gangs (T: 5/20: 14-17). On redirect examination, claimant testified that he had completed four books about life in prison. Some of the subject matter material involved gangs, including a fictitious Bloods gang sect he called Gotham City Brim (T 5/20: 17-20).

Claimant's attorney read excerpts of certain exhibits into the record, summarized as follows.

Exhibit 1 is a certified redacted copy of C.W.'s psychiatric progress notes from Five Points Correctional Facility (Five Points) and Green Haven, and DOCCS (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision) transfer progress notes. A screening note from C.W.'s admission to the Office of Mental Health (OMH) Satellite Unit at Five Points on August 12, 2015 (Ex. 1, p 8) provides that C.W. was referred for verbally abusing a correction officer, that he was "angry and emotionally reactive," he did not want medication, and he claimed to have asked for and received PC [protective custody] status because his gang issued a $5, 000 contract for anyone to cut him after he had reported to security that his gang assigned him to carry out a hit on another incarcerated person that he did not complete. Notes from a private OMH interview at Five Points on September 11, 2015 (id. at 9) provide that the interview was requested by security, and that C.W. said he had been diagnosed with "Borderline Personality Disorder," he was feeling angry, having verbal altercations with officers, and feeling like they were "out to get him." It was also noted that C.W. had been expressing threats to officers and "had a recent admission to RCTP [Residential Crisis Treatment Program] for threats" (id. at 10).

Exhibit 2 is a certified copy of a disciplinary hearing against C.W. for an incident at Great Meadow Correctional Facility (Great Meadow) on November 12, 2014. C.W. was charged with and found guilty of fighting and violent conduct arising from a yard fight.

Exhibit 3 is a copy of a hearing disposition for disciplinary charges against C.W. for violent conduct and fighting arising from another fight at Great Meadow on December 31, 2014. Staff from OMH testified at the hearing, after which C.W. was found guilty (T 5/20: 24-26).

Exhibit 4 is a certified copy of the disciplinary proceedings against C.W. for the attack on claimant. Beginning on page 4 of the hearing transcript, counsel read the following description of the incident, as reported by Correction Officer K. Whicom: "while observing 1-Company chow return with approximately 16 [incarcerated persons], when this [incarcerated person C.W.], 14A3894 H1-11, struck [incarcerated person] Strong, 08A0283, who is in H1-26, with a closed - - with a close - - first [sic] punch to [incarcerated person] Strong's face, causing him to fall on the floor" (T 5/20: 22-23). Counsel also read C.W.'s guilty plea to the charges arising from the incident in which he said he had not been in his "right state of mind" (Ex. 4, p 5).

Clinical notes from C.W.'s admission to the Green Haven RCTP on December 9, 2015 (Ex. 1, p 11) report that C.W. said he was trying to get out of his gang, the Bloods, and gang members were trying to hurt him. It was also noted that "security has reported patient is not getting PC, at this time, as he was unable to provide any information regarding people who are threatening him" (id. at 13). It was noted on December 10, 2015 (id. at 2-3) that C.W. reported he had been in PC in "multiple prisons," he was in a gang called "Gorilla Stone," and he was afraid they would kill him. It was noted on December 12, 2015 (id. at 4) that C.W. reported "he was released today from 30 days KL [keeplock] for tier II ticket for fighting." It was noted on December 16, 2015 (id. at 3) that C.W. said he did not want PC or TRI-CP (Transitional Intermediate Care Program), but he did want ICP (Intermediate Care Program). He was "tired of being called 'bug out' by dudes on the block" (id.).

After claimant rested his case, the State moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that claimant failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence. Claimant opposed the motion. The Court reserved decision on the motion.

Defendant's Case

The State offered Harold Meyers, a Forensic Program Administrator 2 with OMH, as an expert in the area of mental health in correctional facilities. Claimant's counsel consented. Mr. Meyers has been employed by OMH for 23 years and has been in his current position for two years. In that position, he oversees the mental health programs at 15 correctional facilities, including Green Haven (T 5/21: 3-4). He explained that he was trained and licensed as a social worker and served as a Unit Chief before his current position. As a Unit Chief, he had contact with patients daily and he was involved in their care and treatment (T 5/21: 36-38).

Mr. Meyers explained that a "satellite unit" is "the Office of Mental Health's mental health services within a DOCCS correctional setting" (T 5/21: 7). Generally, OMH cannot show DOCCS a patient's clinical treatment records due to patient confidentiality. However, OMH notifies a DOCCS Sergeant of security issues concerning a patient, such as C.W.'s claim that he would be attacked in General Population (GP). OMH can also share information about threats to the safety and operation of the facility, such as gang affiliation. Security speaks with the patient about security issues (T 5/21: 8, 13-14).

Mr. Meyers described the RCTP as a "small hospital" where people are sent "as a result of being a danger to self or others or psychiatric decompensation" (T 5/21: 7). The decision whether to admit an incarcerated person referred to the RCTP is made by an OMH staff member (T 5/21: 10). Patients in the RCTP have the right to refuse medication, unless an order is in place, and to be placed in the least restrictive setting in which they can function. Patients in the RCTP are monitored with cameras in the cells and security staff make rounds every 15 minutes. OMH staff review the logs kept by security staff before conducting daily out-of-cell private interviews with patients (T 5/21: 11-12). To be discharged from RCTP back to General Population, OMH clinicians must determine, based on their clinical judgment, that a patient's psychiatric symptoms are stable "and/or" the patient's thoughts are no longer a danger to himself or others (T 5/21: 28-30, 32).

Mr. Meyers was then asked questions about C.W.'s psychiatric records, which were heavily redacted. [4] He determined that C.W. had been admitted to the RCTP based on security concerns, and he explained what C.W. was referring to when he said he did not want PC or TRI- ICP. "TRI-ICP" is an OMH treatment program for those with "serious mental illness" that is situated in GP (T 5/21: 25, 31). C.W. said he wanted ICP, which is a prison-based mental health program that is segregated from GP (T 5/21: 25-26, 34). Mr. Meyers described ICP as "where people with serious traditional mental illness and functional impairment [... are] segregated from the rest of the prison" (T 5/21: 6). There is a DOCCS housing unit and security staff, "but pretty much every other aspect of the operation is directed by [OMH]" (T 5/21: 8).

On cross-examination, Mr. Meyers was asked about certain notes in the records, which he testified indicated that C.W. was admitted to the Green Haven RCTP on December 9, 2015, and to the OMH satellite unit at Five Points on September 11, 2015. He denied knowing that C.W. had been involved in assaults between incarcerated individuals in November and December of 2014 (T 5/21: 46-47). On redirect examination, Mr. Meyers agreed that the fact C.W. was discharged to GP meant that the clinical OMH staff in the RCTP decided that the ICP was not necessary or appropriate for him (T 5/21: 47).

The State's attorney then sought to ask Mr. Meyers questions based on his review of an unredacted copy of C.W.'s records. Claimant's attorney...

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