On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 28, 2007
Before Judges Axelrad and Sapp-Peterson.
This is a prison disciplinary appeal. Kyiis Justice is an inmate currently confined at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton. He appeals a final determination of the Department of Corrections (DOC) finding him guilty of setting a fire in his cell and engaging in disruptive conduct or conduct that interfered with the security or orderly running of the correctional facility. We affirm.
The facts may be briefly stated. On September 18, 2006, at about 9:05 p.m., Justice's hot pot boiled and started to emit smoke as it began melting. Justice was not in the room at the time as he had gone to the day room. He initially denied leaving the hot pot engaged. However, he subsequently indicated that his cellmate had been using the hot pot and had neglected to unplug it. Justice further stated that when he returned to the cell and observed the hot pot melting, he reported the incident to a correction officer, but the officer's delayed response caused the cell to fill with smoke. Justice's cellmate denied leaving the hot pot plugged in. The next day, both Justice and his cellmate were served with disciplinary charges, and an investigation commenced. Justice was charged with two asterisk offenses: *.151, starting a fire, and *.306, engaging in conduct that disrupts or interferes with the security or orderly running of the prison institution.*fn1 Justice pleaded not guilty to both charges and provided a statement in connection with both allegations. As to the charge that he started a fire, Justice stated, "It wasn't no fire. The hot pot melted, I left it plugged in, I was in the dayroom and forgot it was plugged in. Medina had nothing to do with it." In connection with the disruption or interference allegation, Justice stated, "Miss Dooley wouldn't open the door. I told her the hot pot was burning up but it took her over 15 minutes to open the door."
On September 20, 2006, a hearing officer conducted a courtline adjudication of the charges. The hearing officer adjudicated Justice guilty of the charges and imposed a fifteen-day detention, a sixty-day loss of commutation credit, and a ninety-day administrative segregation on the disciplinary infraction *.151. The sanction imposed on the disciplinary infraction *.306 was combined with the sanction imposed on *.151.
Justice timely appealed the hearing officer's decision to the Administrator of South Woods Prison, but resolution of his appeal was delayed because DOC could not locate his administrative appeal. His appeal was ultimately considered by the South Woods Associate Administrator, who upheld the guilty adjudications but modified Justice's sanction by suspending the ninety-day administrative segregation, conditioned upon Justice remaining free of any new charges for sixty days.
The ensuing appeal followed. On January 16, 2007, DOC filed a motion for a remand to permit Justice an opportunity to resubmit his administrative appeal because DOC had not yet located his original administrative appeal. By order dated February 20, 2007, we granted the motion. Upon remand, however, Justice declined to resubmit his administrative appeal.
Justice raised the following points for our consideration on appeal.
A FINDING OF GUILT AT A DISCIPLINARY HEARING SHALL BE BASED UPON SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT THE INMATE HAS COMMITTED A PROHIBITED ACT.
AN INMATE SHALL BE PERMITTED TO BE PRESENT THROUGHOUT THE DISCIPLINARY HEARING. THE REASONS FOR EXCLUDING AN INMATE FROM THE DISCIPLINARY HEARING ...