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Jones v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections

August 17, 2010

RASHON JONES, 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NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION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 March 1, 2010

Before Judges Lisa and R. B. Coleman.

Rashon Jones, an inmate at New Jersey State Prison, appeals from a final decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC) upholding the decision of the hearing officer that found Jones guilty of prohibited act *.004, fighting with another person and *.306, conduct which disrupts or interferes with the security and orderly running of the correctional facility. For each violation, sanctions of fifteen days detention, 365 days administrative segregation, 365 days loss of commutation credits and thirty days loss of recreational privileges were imposed, to be served consecutively.

In his appellate brief, Jones argues that the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt, that the two infractions should have been merged to avoid double punishment and that the sanctions were excessive. We reject those arguments and affirm.

In reviewing DOC decisions respecting discipline of inmates, we apply the standard of review applicable to final agency decisions in general. Thus, our review is limited to a determination of "'whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record, considering the proofs as a whole.'" Close v. Kordulak, 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965) (quoting State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964)). "[A]n appellate court will reverse the decision of the administrative agency only if it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by the substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). The burden of demonstrating that the action of the agency was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable rests upon the individual challenging that action. McGowan v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 347 N.J. Super. 544, 563 (App. Div. 2002). We find no basis to disturb the findings or the disciplinary action taken.

The critical facts are concisely stated in Jones' own brief. He states

On April 18, 2008, at dinnertime, a fight involving several inmates broke out in the mess hall at New Jersey State Prison. Appellant was identified by SCO C. Sebastian as one of the participants in the fighting. As a result of the fight, the mess movement was halted and all the other inmate movement, programs, and activities within the prison were canceled for the entire evening.

Jones contends, however, that he was "attempting to break up the fight and someone hit me, . . . I was defending myself."

Several corrections officers identified Jones as being involved in the fight. The hearing officer indicated in his summary of the evidence that Officer Sebastian, in particular, observed Jones as a willing participant in a fight. Jones reportedly threw more than one punch at other inmates involved in the incident. Two of the prime antagonists, inmate Mathis and inmate Feagins, denied that Jones was a participant. They supported Jones' role as a would-be peacemaker. However, the hearing officer rejected that view of Jones' involvement, noting for example, that Feagins "was, himself, heavily involved in a physical altercation during the incident and it is not reasonable [to] conclude that inmate Feagins could have maintained sight of inmate Jones' activities during the entire incident."

The hearing officer found Officer Sebastian's vantage point more reliable, as he noted:

Officer Sebastian testified that he was locked in the rear cage of the IDR during the mess movement. He added that the inmate later identified as Jones was seated in front of the IDR until the fight started. He testified that he observed the inmate involved in a fighting incident in the IDR. He testified that he observed Jones throw more than one punch at the other inmates involved in the incident. He added that he identified the inmate by sight and that identification was confirmed after the incident. He testified that after the identification was made he was able to confirm that inmate Jones was involved in the large fight that took place.

Ultimately, the hearing officer found, based on his assessment of the evidence, "that inmate Jones was involved in a fighting episode in the IDR of NJSP." We are satisfied that finding could be reached on the ...


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