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Jenkins v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


November 13, 2009

RASOOL JENKINS, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.

On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 26, 2009

Before Judges Lisa and Baxter.

Appellant, Rasool Jenkins, a New Jersey State Prison inmate, appeals from a final decision of the Department of Corrections, entered on August 20, 2008, adjudicating him guilty of committing prohibited acts *.002 (assaulting any person), *.306 (conduct which disrupts or interferes with the security or orderly running of the correctional facility), and *.205 (misuse of authorized medications). See N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). The following sanctions were imposed: on the *.002 charge, fifteen days detention, 365 days administrative segregation, 365 days loss of commutation credits, refer to county prosecutor criminal charges, and refer to Classification Committee for possible MCU placement, consecutive to other charges; on the *.306 charge, fifteen days detention, 365 days administrative segregation, and 365 days loss of commutation credits, consecutive to other charges; on the *.205 charge, confiscate pills, permanent loss of contact visits, ninety days administrative segregation, and sixty days loss of commutation credits, consecutive to other charges.

Appellant argues that the decision should be reversed because it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record and because he was denied his due process rights. We reject these arguments and affirm.

Appellant had previously been confined at Southern State Correctional Facility, and was returned to that facility on July 8, 2008. According to appellant, corrections officers were displeased that he was returned to their facility, and warned him that he was in physical danger and should request protective custody status, which appellant refused to do. According to appellant, on July 9, 2008, several corrections officers attacked and assaulted him without provocation and fabricated the charges against him in order to accomplish their goal of having him transferred to another facility.

According to the corrections officers, appellant was seen on July 9, 2008 secreting an item in his footlocker. The officer who observed this directed appellant to submit to a pat frisk, during which appellant tossed an object to the ground. Appellant then struck the officer in the head with his elbow. The officer attempted to restrain appellant, and he physically resisted. Other officers assisted, and a scuffle ensued. As a result of this disturbance, a Code 33 was called, which stopped all prisoner movements and otherwise disrupted the operation of the prison. Several pills were found on appellant's person. He did not have a prescription for those pills and was not authorized to have them.

The charges were referred for investigation, after which they were served on appellant and a disciplinary hearing was scheduled. Appellant requested and was provided counsel substitute. Appellant requested confrontation of several witnesses, including two officers involved in the initial interaction with him and the nurse who assessed his injuries after the incident and provided treatment. Confrontation was conducted as requested with respect to the officers. However, the hearing officer deemed irrelevant the questions proposed for the nurse, because all relevant information was contained in the reports she had filed.

Based upon his review of all of the relevant investigative reports and the testimony of the officers, the hearing officer adjudicated appellant guilty of all three charges and imposed the sanctions we have mentioned. Appellant filed an administrative appeal. The associate administrator of Southern State Correctional Facility rendered the final agency decision, upholding the decision and sanctions of the hearing officer.

We will not interfere with an agency's decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable or unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). We have reviewed the record and we are satisfied that the reports and testimony relied upon by the hearing officer and the associate administrator provided the required "substantial" evidence to support the disciplinary violations against appellant. See McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 195 (1995); N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.15(a); R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D).

We are further satisfied from our review of the record that the disciplinary proceedings were conducted in accordance with all applicable due process requirements. See Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 522 (1975). We find unpersuasive appellant's argument that he was wrongfully denied the right of confrontation of the nurse. A hearing officer in a disciplinary proceeding is vested with the authority to disallow proposed confrontation questions on various grounds, including irrelevance. N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.14(d)2. We find no mistaken exercise in discretion by the hearing officer in disallowing the questions proposed for the nurse. Appellant sought to have the nurse confirm that a corrections officer instructed her that she should not document injuries "that were not factual." Assuming the nurse was required to testify and answer that question, and assuming she answered in the affirmative, the result here would not have been different. Presumably all prison officials and witnesses would confine the contents of their reports to matters that are "factual."

Any additional arguments raised by appellant not specifically discussed in this opinion lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

Affirmed.

20091113

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