On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 6, 2010
Before Judges Graves and J. N. Harris.
Melvin Jones, an inmate lodged at East Jersey State Prison, appeals from his conviction for commission of prohibited act .703 (correspondence or conduct with a visitor in violation of regulations). See N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). As the result of his conviction, Jones was sanctioned with sixty days loss of contact visits.
On appeal, Jones presents the following main legal argument:
IN VIEW OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THIS MATTER THE FINAL DECISION OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS SHOULD BE VACATED AND DISMISSED, INASMUCH AS APPELLANT WAS DENIED A FAIR DISCIPLINARY HEARING PREJUDICIAL ENOUGH TO WARRANT REVERSAL, AND VIOLATIVE OF APPELLANT'S DUE PROCESS AND EQUAL PROTECTION RIGHTS AS GUARANTEED BY NEW JERSEY CONSTITUTION, SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTIONS.
Distilled to its essence, Jones claims that he was the victim of an overarching pattern of discrimination and retaliation fostered by the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC), implemented by its officers, primarily Lieutenant Richard Salort, and carried to fulfillment by the hearing officer and administrator assigned to his case. Jones claims that the present disciplinary matter was initiated in retaliation for Jones's formal and informal complaints about Lieutenant Salort's alleged harassment and religious discrimination.
The record reveals evidence that on January 4, 2009, Jones was observed in the prison's Visit Hall by two corrections officers--Lieutenant Salort and Senior Corrections Officer Stark--engaged in inappropriate behavior with a visitor. Lieutenant Salort's report of the incident stated, "visitor Mrs. Karen Duck was witness[ed] by this writer with her legs wedged between inmate Jones['s] legs." Senior Corrections Officer Stark's report similarly stated, "I observed I/M Jones # sitting with his visitor[']s legs wedged in between his."
Believing that Jones's conduct, which Jones had previously been warned against, was contrary to DOC regulations, Lieutenant Salort initiated a disciplinary proceeding against Jones. Witness statements were collected, videotapes were reviewed and found to be without evidentiary significance,*fn1 and a hearing was held on January 9, 2009.
Disciplinary Hearing Officer Gary Shepperd marshaled the evidence, sifted through the conflicting portions of the proofs, and rendered the following determination:
The behavior does violate visit rules (visit rules- P. 29 IM handbook- #1[*fn2 ]) according to the Lt. IM pleads not guilty, stating the Lt. is retaliating. There is no evidence that this is the case. Inmate's witnesses do not give him any real support. The staff observations are clear, ...