On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and Lyons.
John Haynes (Haynes), an inmate currently incarcerated at East Jersey State Prison (EJSP), appeals from a final administrative decision rendered by the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) imposing disciplinary sanctions on him for violating N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a) *.004, fighting with another person, and N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a) *.002, assaulting any person. Haynes is an out-of-state inmate serving a Pennsylvania sentence of life imprisonment for aggravated manslaughter, aggravated murder, possession of an instrument of a crime, and aggravated assault.
The following factual and procedural history is relevant to our consideration of the issues advanced on appeal. On May 9, 2007, Haynes arrived at EJSP after being transferred from New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. At EJSP, he came in contact with an inmate named Fuquan Craft (Craft) whom he had known and served time with while in Trenton.
On May 13, 2007, at approximately 12:45 p.m., Haynes was in the recreation yard. A conversation between Haynes and Craft occurred. The parties began to spar, punches were thrown, and both Haynes and Craft fell to the ground, while wrestling one another. Eventually, the altercation was broken up and Craft left the area. Most of this incident was captured on videotape.
Later that afternoon, Haynes was standing at the entrance to the yard exit cage. Corrections Officer Konopada (Konopada) witnessed Haynes strike Craft with a closed fist in the head. According to Konopada, Haynes continued punching Craft and ignored several orders to break up the fight. Eventually, a code was called, and both combatants were restrained. On the following day, Haynes was served with disciplinary charges alleging assault, while Craft was served with a disciplinary charge of fighting. On May 15, 2007, Haynes was also served with a disciplinary charge of fighting between Craft and him on May 13, 2007, arising out of the first incident.
On May 16, 2007, the first scheduled hearing was postponed so as to afford Haynes' counsel substitute more time to prepare. The disciplinary hearing was held on May 18, 2007. With respect to the first incident, Haynes argued that Craft initiated the altercation and that Craft has "special needs." Haynes further argued that he was merely defending himself and that he was attacked. Haynes identified six witnesses to the incident, including Craft. In addition to the witness statements submitted to the hearing officer after the incident, the hearing officer reviewed the videotape of the yard which recorded part of the incident. The hearing officer found that Haynes' statements regarding the other inmate's status as "special needs" to be inaccurate. The hearing officer determined that it was impossible, based upon the videotape, to determine which of the inmates initiated the fight, but he clearly found that "Haynes did not attempt to run from the fight, but continued to spar with Craft, continuing the fight." The hearing officer noted that Craft sustained significant injuries and concluded that there was substantial evidence that Haynes had engaged in fighting.
With respect to the assault charge arising out of the second incident on May 13, 2007, the hearing officer reviewed various correctional officers' reports, as well as statements from some inmates. The hearing officer noted that the inmates' statements were not taken by staff, but were produced by the inmate.
With respect to the hearing concerning the second incident on May 13, 2007, Haynes argued that he had been attacked without warning by Craft, and after he was hit, he merely swung back, grabbed Craft, and rolled on the ground. The hearing officer relied primarily on the testimony of Konopada whose testimony was that he saw Haynes hit Craft and continue to do so. Sergeant Rock-Asencio also provided information that he witnessed Haynes hitting Craft, but that Craft was not fighting back. The hearing officer found substantial evidence to adjudicate Haynes guilty of assault. A timely appeal was filed with the DOC. Following EJSP's associate administrator's upholding of the finding of guilty, but modifying the punishment, this appeal followed.
On appeal, Haynes presents the following arguments for our consideration:
A DUE PROCESS VIOLATION OCCURRED WHEN THE HEARING OFFICER FAILED TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE APPELLANT'S RIGHT TO DEFEND HIMSELF FROM ASSAULT IN ...