March 4, 2011
TROY WILLIAMS, APPELLANT,
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 11, 2011 - Decided Before Judges Payne and Koblitz.
Appellant Troy Williams, a New Jersey State Prison inmate serving a five-year prison term with a mandatory minimum of all five years, appeals the January 15, 2010 decision of the Department of Corrections (Department) imposing discipline for fighting with another inmate. N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a); *.004.*fn1
Williams was sanctioned to fifteen days detention, with credit for time served, 180 days administrative segregation, a 180-day loss of commutation time*fn2 and referral to the classification committee for possible "Keep Separates" as well as a status review. On appeal, Williams argues that the hearing officer rendered an arbitrary and capricious finding of guilt not supported by substantial evidence and failed to obtain witness statements requested by Williams, and that the associate administrator improperly rendered a final determination without articulated reasons. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
On the morning of January 7, 2010, a fight involving at least fourteen inmates, including Williams, broke out on F-Unit at Bayside State Prison (BSP). At approximately 6:50 a.m., a corrections officer saw Williams punching inmate Eric Boyd in the face while Boyd was lying on the floor. The officer called for help and other officers arrived and broke up the fight.
The adjudication hearing took place on January 12, 2010. At his request, Williams was assisted by a counsel substitute.
Williams asserted that he was not participating in the fight, but rather trying to stop the fighting.
The Department has "broad discretionary powers" to promulgate regulations aimed at maintaining security and order inside correctional facilities. Jenkins v. Fauver, 108 N.J. 239, 252 (1987). Moreover, it has been noted that "[p]risons are dangerous places, and the courts must afford appropriate deference and flexibility to administrators trying to manage this volatile environment." Russo v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 324 N.J. Super. 576, 584 (App. Div. 1999).
Prison disciplinary hearings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full spectrum of rights due to a criminal defendant does not apply. See Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 522 (1975). Prisoners are, however, entitled to certain limited protections. Ibid. These protections include written notice of the charges at least twenty-four hours prior to the hearing, an impartial tribunal which may consist of personnel from the central office staff of the prison, a limited right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence, a limited right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, the assistance of counsel substitute, and a right to a written statement of the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the sanctions imposed.
Id. at 525-33; see also McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 193-96 (1995); Jacobs v. Stephens, 139 N.J. 212, 217-18 (1995).
Williams argues that his request for four witness' statements was not honored. The records, however, indicate that he sought witness statements from inmates Boyd and Kendall Jenkins only. Boyd refused to give a statement, while Jenkins gave a statement supporting Williams by indicating that he and Williams were only trying to break up the fight. Thus, Williams' argument that the hearing officer failed to obtain witness statements is without merit. Williams also declined the opportunity to cross-examine adverse witnesses.
The records reflect that when all the inmates involved were taken to the medical department for evaluation, Williams had a "small abrasion on the frontal region of his scalp" and "minor abrasions on [the] knuckle of [his right] hand."
In his decision, the hearing officer indicates he relied on the medical injury report as well as an investigative report of over 100 pages, which was shown to Williams and his counsel substitute. The melee required the officer to call a "code," which remained in effect for three and one-half hours, and both inmates and staff were injured. A corrections officer report reflects that the officer saw Williams punching Boyd in the face and chest area, which caused the officer to sound the alarm.
Williams acknowledged he was not permitted to be at the location where the fight occurred.
The hearing officer articulated his findings, which were supported by the record. In contrast, Williams' argument to the contrary lacks such support.
Finally, Williams argues that in upholding the hearing officer's decision, Assistant Superintendent Paul A. Wagner failed to provide a basis for his decision. As he did here, Wagner is permitted to rely on the findings of the hearing officer. Because he relied on the hearing officer's detailed findings, the Assistant Superintendent's decision was not arbitrary or capricious as argued by Williams. See Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980) ("Ordinarily, an appellate court will reverse the decision of the administrative agency only if it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole."); Jacobs, supra, 139 N.J. at 222.
The relevant standard of review is "whether the findings could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record considering the proofs as a whole[.]" In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999) (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)) (internal quotation marks omitted). N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.15(a) provides that "a finding of guilt at a disciplinary hearing shall be based upon substantial evidence that the inmate has committed a prohibited act." The disciplinary decision was founded on substantial evidence provided by the 100-page investigative report, the statements of the eyewitness corrections officer, the medical report, and Williams' admission that he was in a location where he was not permitted to be.