On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 27, 2012
Before Judges Grall and Alvarez.
In this prison disciplinary matter, Quacy April, a state inmate, appeals from a final New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) administrative decision issued on April 18, 2011. April was adjudicated guilty of disciplinary infractions *.001, killing; *.306, conduct which disrupts or interferes with the security or orderly running of the correctional facility; and *.010, participating in an activity related to a security threat group. See N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1. We affirm.
The incident which resulted in these charges occurred August 23, 2010, while April was serving a three-year sentence with a one-year mandatory minimum term for receiving stolen property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7(b)(3), and unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b). April was housed at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility. On that date, April, along with four other inmates, killed another inmate, Carl Epps, by punching and kicking him. The criminal incident was referred to the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office as required by N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.2. When interviewed by the Prosecutor's Office, April admitted participating in the assault by hitting Epps twice, once on his back and once on the arm or neck area. Mountainview was locked down for approximately twenty-four hours after the incident; the Special Investigations Division's investigation commenced immediately. April, along with the other inmates involved in the incident, were found to be members of the Crips gang. As a result of the charges, April was placed in prehearing detention.*fn1
After the completion of the investigation, DOC Sergeant Infante, on March 4, 2011, served the disciplinary charges on April. The disciplinary hearing commenced on March 7, 2011, but was postponed because April was out of the facility due to a court appearance. The following day, the hearing officer again postponed the matter pending receipt of additional material from the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office, which had been conducting a parallel investigation. Thereafter, the hearing was postponed on five occasions because additional materials were generated by the ongoing investigations. On March 28, 2011, DOC Investigator Wayne Robbins issued a report finding that April and the other inmates conspired to assault Epps and were involved in a security threat group or gang.
The hearing reconvened on March 29, 2011, and April and his counsel substitute requested an additional twenty-four hours in which to review the evidence and prepare, which request was granted. On March 31, 2011, counsel substitute submitted April's statement for the record, and the hearing was postponed again for review of the document.
At the close of the proceedings, Hearing Officer Oszvart*fn2 found April guilty of all three charges. On the *.001 charge, he imposed a sanction of fifteen days detention with credit for time served, 365 days of administrative segregation, and 365 days of loss of commutation time. With regard to the *.306 charge, April received sanctions of fifteen days of detention with credit for time served, 365 days administrative segregation, and 365 days loss of commutation time, consecutive to the sanctions for the *.001 charge. With regard to the *.010 charge, April received sanctions of credit for thirty days of time served, 365 days administrative segregation, and 365 days loss of commutation time consecutive to the *.001 and *.306 charge sanctions.
April administratively appealed. On April 18, 2011, Associate Administrator Sherry Jones upheld the hearing officer's decision, contrary to April's assertion on appeal, concluding that the failure to adhere to the time lines in this case was excusable because of "the seriousness and complexity of the charges, along with the fact that the evidence was controlled by an outside agency . . . ." Furthermore, although no officer reports were submitted, the hearing officer did review April's confession, which was corroborated by the other inmates who were charged. In reaching her decision, Jones also relied on other information, including the medical examiner's report and DOC Senior Investigator Brian Bonomo's expertise in gang intelligence. She concluded that the proofs constituted substantial evidence supporting the charges. Additionally, Jones noted that at April's request the hearing was delayed forty-eight hours, and that he was afforded an opportunity to produce witnesses for the hearing, but declined to do so. Lastly, Jones opined that April could not be given credit for the time he alleged he spent in TCC. He was, however, given credit for time spent in prehearing detention.
Prisoners are entitled to certain due process protections before being subjected to disciplinary sanctions. Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 521 (1975). We summarize those requirements:
(1) Written notice of the charges at least twenty-four hours prior to the hearing,
(2) An impartial tribunal,
(3) Where the charges are complex or the inmate is illiterate or otherwise unable to prepare his defense, the inmate should be permitted ...