On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 11, 2009
Before Judges Waugh and Newman.
Appellant Arshan Little appeals from a Final Agency Decision of the Department of Corrections imposing disciplinary sanctions on him for committing prohibited act *.004, fighting with another person, and prohibited act *.306, conduct which disrupts or interferes with the security or orderly running of the correctional facility, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). We affirm.
Appellant is serving a thirty-year sentence with a mandatory minimum of twenty-five years, five months and twenty-nine days for convictions of aggravated manslaughter, robbery and distributing drugs on school property. On April 18, 2008, at approximately 5:37 p.m., a fight broke out in the Inmate Dining Room (IDR) at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton (NJSP). Sgt. White, Senior Corrections Officer (SCO) Stalling and Corrections Officer Recruit (COR) Sebastian all witnessed the altercation. Each of the officers identified appellant as one of the participants.
After the fight, appellant along with the other participants, were removed from the IDR, cleared for placement in pre-hearing detention by medical staff and escorted to the detention area. The physical altercation halted all institutional movements and caused the cancellation of all programs and activities for the inmate population for the remainder of the evening. At the hearing, appellant stated "I was not fighting" and his counsel substitute requested dismissal of the charges. A statement from inmate Anthony D. Hicks was submitted. In that statement, Hicks remembered that at lunchtime on that date that he and the other people at the table were all laughing with appellant because he spilled juice on his State pants. He presumed that appellant was placed in lock up because the stain on his pants was presumed to be blood. The altercation in question, however, did not take place at lunchtime, but rather at the evening meal.
A videotape of the fighting was part of the evidence presented. Although the videotape was blurry, the officers' reports detailed their eyewitness account of the incident.
The hearing officer acknowledged the poor quality of the videotape, but he relied on the eyewitness reports and confrontation testimony which corroborated the fighting charges against appellant. In finding him guilty, the hearing officer found:
[b]ased on the evidence presented it is reasonable to conclude that inmate Little was involved in a fighting episode in the IDR of NJSP. Sgt. White, SCO Stalling and CO Sebastian provided an eyewitness report stating that while assigned to the Mess Hall they observed inmate Little along with several other inmates throwing punches at each other in a large group. Therefore based on the evidence presented as well as the testimony of the witnesses during confrontations and a review of the videotapes there is substantial evidence to support the charge.
The hearing officer recommended sanctions of fifteen days detention, with credit for time served, 365 days administration segregation, 365 days loss of commutation time and thirty days loss of recreation privileges.
In adjudicating the *.306 charge, the hearing officer made the following determination:
[t]he actions of inmate Little significantly contributed to the escalation of the incident necessitating the facility to be locked down for an extended period of time and therefore disrupted the safety, security and normal operations of the institution.
Therefore[,] based on the evidence presented as well as testimony of the witnesses during confrontations and a review of the videotapes[,] there is ...