On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 15, 2011
Before Judges Payne and Reisner.
Nasir Turner, an inmate, appeals from a January 15, 2010 final decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC), finding that he engaged in prohibited act *.004 (fighting with another person). Appellant was sanctioned with 15 days detention, 180 days administrative segregation, and 180 days loss of commutation time. We affirm.
We begin by summarizing the evidence.*fn1 The disciplinary charge arose out of a melee involving many inmates at Bayside State Prison. Sgt. J. Henson reported that on January 7, 2010, at 6:55 a.m., he and several other officers responded to a "Code 33" call concerning a fight on the "2-1 and 2-2 line" housing areas of the prison. When Henson arrived, two corrections officers had already secured the sliding doors to the cells, but several inmates "who refused to lock in were kicking and punching each other." Henson ordered all of the inmates who were still fighting to "immediately stop and lie on the floor face down[,]however[,] all refused and continued to fight." His report listed all of those recalcitrant inmates by name; Turner was one of them. According to another report, from Officer Saunders, "[inmate Turner] was observed fighting and throwing punches with several [inmates] on the 2-1 line."
Turner responded to the charge in a written statement dated January 7, 2010. He asserted that he initially left his cell because he was told that his friend Lampley was fighting with another inmate named Smiley. However, on seeing that the confrontation was only an argument and not a fight, Turner returned to his cell to finish his breakfast. He then "heard some kind of [stampede] outside on the tier," looked out of his cell and saw a fight going on, and "went to see who it was." At this point the "code went off," the cell doors were closing, and Turner was unable to get back into his cell before the door closed. Turner asserted that as he was waiting outside his cell, he heard an inmate named Cole tell another inmate named Tidy to "f--k me up." According to Turner, "[n]ext thing I know Smiley punches me in the face and I start fighting with Smiley & the kid Tidy. Next the CO's [sic] come and cuff us and take us [to] the lockup."
According to the disciplinary adjudication report, which was signed as to accuracy by Turner's inmate counsel substitute, at his hearing Turner declined to call defense witnesses and declined to confront any adverse witnesses. Instead, Turner relied on his written statement and the following additional statement: "I was standing by the door. I got hit. I was locked out and couldn't get back into [the cell]. That is why I was in the hall. They did not identify me fighting with nobody."
The hearing officer found Turner guilty. In a short summary of the evidence, the hearing officer noted that there were "very extensive reports over 100 pages shown to subject and counsel substitute." The hearing officer acknowledged the inmate's explanation of the event, but instead chose to credit the corrections officers' incident reports, noting that the "preliminary incident report" was "specific in describing subject's involvement."
Turner administratively appealed the decision, contending that it was not supported by sufficient credible evidence; that there were no reports identifying him "throwing punches or fighting" with another inmate; that he "was assaulted"; and that the hearing officer gave no individualized consideration to the facts of his case. However, the prison's assistant superintendent rejected the appeal, concluding that the hearing officer's decision "was based upon substantial evidence."
Our review of the agency's decision is limited. We will affirm the agency's determination so long as the agency provided the inmate with procedural due process, see McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 192 (1995), and so long as its decision is supported by substantial credible evidence and is consistent with applicable law. ...