January 17, 2008
ADRIAN COLLINS, APPELLANT,
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 5, 2007
Before Judges Parker and Lyons.
Petitioner Adrian Collins*fn1 appeals from a final disciplinary decision by the Department of Corrections (DOC) rendered on January 17, 2007 finding him guilty of prohibited act *.005, threatening another with bodily harm or with any other offense against his or her person or his or her property. He was ultimately sanctioned fifteen days of detention, 120 days loss of commutation time and 120 days administrative segregation.
The facts giving rise to these charges occurred on January 12, 2007 when a corrections officer saw petitioner "pointing at [a female officer's] rear end in a suggestive manner while shaking his head and laughing." When questioned about his behavior, petitioner stated, "Yea it's me, I got to have some of that."
Petitioner was placed in administrative detention pending investigation. He was initially charged with .052, making sexual proposals or threats to another, as well as *.005. He was provided with all of the necessary notices. At a disciplinary hearing on January 16, 2007, petitioner pleaded not guilty and was assigned a counsel substitute. After the hearing, the .052 charge was downgraded and combined with the *.005 charge.
In this appeal, petitioner argues (1) he never spoke to the reporting sergeant; (2) the hearing officer erred in finding the corrections officer credible; and (3) the disposition of the DOC appeal states that the female officer never realized she was threatened.
Our scope of review of administrative decisions is narrowly circumscribed. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). Our role is to determine "'whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record' considering 'the proofs as a whole'" and "with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility." Ibid. (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)). We "may not 'engage in an independent assessment of the evidence . . . .'" In re Taylor, supra, 158 N.J. at 656 (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999)). We will accord a strong presumption of reasonableness, Smith v. Ricci, 89 N.J. 514, 525 (1982), and give great deference to administrative decisions. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 159 (1964). We do not, however, simply rubber stamp the agency's decision. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). An administrative decision will be reversed only when it is found to be "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Ibid.
We have carefully considered the record in light of petitioner's arguments and we are satisfied that the decision of the DOC is supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D).