On appeal from a Final Decision of the Director of Central Operations of the Department of Children and Families, Ref. No. AHU 01-019.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 3, 2008
Before Judges Carchman and Sabatino.
T.K., a former corrections officer recruit, appeals a final agency decision of the Department of Children and Families ("the Department") of November 1, 2007. The Department's final decision affirmed the finding of an administrative law judge ("ALJ") that T.K. had inflicted abuse upon a juvenile inmate, in violation of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21, by punching the juvenile repeatedly in his cell. We affirm.
The parties stipulated the pertinent underlying facts before the ALJ. We summarize them briefly here.
On January 23, 1999, T.K. was working at the New Jersey Training School for Boys in Jamesburg, a secure detention center for youths aged twelve to twenty-three. That evening, T.K. was assigned to perform random searches of five cells in Cottage 10. One of the cells that T.K. chose to search was occupied by F.R., a fifteen-year-old juvenile with a history of belligerence. T.K. asked F.R., who had been in a common room watching television, to go to his cell and unlock his footlocker. F.R. complied.
During the course of searching F.R.'s cell, T.K. uncovered some writing implements that were apparently contraband. The search caused F.R. to confront T.K. in an angry manner. T.K. grabbed F.R. near the neck and pushed him onto the bed. Then T.K. punched F.R. in the face and head at least three times. As these blows were being struck, F.R. put up his hands to cover his face.
The punches were witnessed by two other juveniles, who called for help. Other corrections officers arrived in response to that call. The officers attempted to resume the cell search. When F.R. continued to voice objections to the search, T.K. punched him again, at least three times in the head and body. F.R. fell back into a corner, hiding his face. T.K. then left the area.
It is uncontroverted that during the altercation, F.R. did not physically touch T.K. or threaten to strike him. It is also uncontroverted that neither of the two juvenile observers made any threatening gestures toward T.K.
As a consequence of being hit repeatedly by T.K., F.R. was treated at the hospital and admitted for observation. He was diagnosed with a large hematoma to his right temporal area, a moderate-sized hematoma to his left eye and abrasions to his left shoulder. He received ice packs and medication to relieve the pain and swelling.
F.R. subsequently reported that a staff member had come into his cell and beaten him. His accusation was forwarded to the Department's*fn1 Institutional Abuse Investigative Unit (the "IAIU"), which performed an investigation of the events pursuant to the child abuse-and-neglect statute, N.J.S.A. 9:6-1 to-8.106. See also N.J.A.C. 10:129-3.3 (requiring an investigation to determine if reported child abuse or neglect is substantiated).
Meanwhile, T.K.'s employer suspended him and charged him with physical or mental abuse of an inmate, conduct unbecoming a public employee, neglect of duty and intentional misstatements of material fact. T.K. negotiated a settlement of those charges with his employer, agreeing to resign his position and to not seek reemployment in the future. As part of the settlement, T.K. acknowledged that he had "verbally and physically assaulted [F.R.] ...