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Timothy Adams v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

November 15, 2011


On appeal from the Department of Corrections. Timothy Adams, appellant pro se.

Per curiam.


Submitted October 17, 2011

Before Judges Parrillo and Grall.

This is a prison disciplinary appeal. Timothy Adams, an inmate confined at New Jersey State Prison, appeals a Department of Corrections (DOC) determination, after administrative proceedings, finding that he committed prohibited act *.002, assaulting any person, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). We affirm.

According to the State's proofs, on July 13, 2010, Senior Corrections Officers (SCO) Horne and Kissane, together with Sergeant McGowan, responding to requests by prison medical personnel, reported to Adams' cell to escort him to the nurse's station. While inside the cell, McGowan saw a note hanging from the window stating "I will no longer be treated like an animal! Death comes Tonight." Adams was then taken to the nurse's station, where he was examined, medically cleared for constant watch status and placed on suicide watch. Thereafter Adams was escorted to a nearby cell and searched, following which SCO Horne ordered him three times to get on his knees and face the wall so that the officers could exit the cell. Adams refused to comply with the command and instead turned and threw a punch that struck SCO Horne in the shoulder. Horne, Kissane and McGowan subdued Adams by taking him to the ground, and in the process, SCO Horne struck Adams three times in the upper body. Adams was then handcuffed and escorted back to the nurse's station, where he reported no injuries during a medical evaluation.

After being medically cleared, Adams was placed in prehearing detention without incident, and then placed on constant watch status. He remained on constant or close watch status until July 23, 2010, at which time Adams was served with the disciplinary report for the *.002 charge. During the investigation of the charge, Adams stated that he would "plead guilty" and did not wish to provide the statements of any eyewitnesses.

Adams underwent a psychological examination on July 26, 2010, which determined that he understood the consequence of his actions during the July 13, 2010 incident. He was then removed from prehearing detention and three days later, on July 29, 2010, an adjudicatory hearing on the *.002 assault charge was held. Adams was afforded an inmate counsel substitute to represent him at the hearing and declined to offer witnesses on his behalf and to confront those adverse to him. At the close of evidence, the hearing officer, relying upon Adams' own guilty plea, the disciplinary report, and other reports prepared by custody and medical staff, found Adams guilty of the *.002 charge. The hearing officer's adjudication report notes that at the hearing the "Statement of inmate" Adams was "guilty--No other comment[,]" and that the "Statement of counsel substitute" was "Leniency. [Adams] does not want this to drag on." The hearing officer recommended a sanction of fifteen days' detention suspended for 60 days, 185 days' administrative segregation suspended for 60 days, 185 days' loss of commutation time, twenty days' loss of recreation privileges, and a mental health referral.

Adams administratively appealed the decision of the hearing officer, claiming that the disciplinary reports were fabricated and that he never pled guilty. On August 30, 2010, the Administrator issued a final decision affirming the guilty adjudication and sanctions imposed. On September 9, 2010, Adams filed a second administrative appeal, and on September 20, 2010, the Administrator affirmed Adams' loss of 185 days' commutation time.

This appeal follows in which Adams argues counsel substitute entered a plea of guilty without his permission, thereby depriving him of the opportunity to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and that he was not provided with any of the evidence used against him except the disciplinary report. We find no merit to these contentions as they are clearly belied by the record.

Our role in reviewing the decision of an administrative agency is limited. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). We will not upset the determination of an administrative agency absent a showing that it was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or that it lacked fair support in the evidence, or that it violated legislative policies. In re Musick, 143 N.J. 206, 216 (1996); Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963). Further, decisions of administrative agencies carry with them a presumption of reasonableness. City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council, 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S. Ct. 400, 66 L. Ed. 2d 245 (1980).

We find no basis to disturb the result in this case. We are satisfied that the DOC's ultimate determination is sufficiently grounded on substantial credible evidence. See Henry, supra, 81 N.J. at 579-80. In addition to Adams' own guilty plea, the personal observations and reports of SCOs Horne and Kissane and Sergeant McGowan all support the finding that Adams refused to comply with SCO Horne's commands and, in his resistance, assaulted SCO Horne.

We are also satisfied that the administrative adjudication comported with procedural due process. See Jacobs v. Stephens, 139 N.J. 212, 219-20 (1995); Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 519-21 (1975). The charges were timely delivered to Adams, the hearing was held within seventy-two hours of his release from constant watch status, and he received counsel substitute. Moreover, the adjudication report notes that Adams was permitted to review all evidence against him except his mental health report, see N.J.A.C. 10A:22-2.7(d); N.J.A.C. 10A:71-2.1(a), and that he declined to confront adverse witnesses or offer his own. Counsel substitute acknowledged these aspects of the report were accurate, and there ...

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