On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 12, 2012
Before Judges Fuentes and Hayden.
In this prison discipline case, inmate Lamont Towns appeals from the final determination of the Department of Corrections (DOC) finding that Towns committed Prohibited Act *.011 by possessing security threat group materials concerning the Bloods. We affirm.
Towns is currently incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP)
at Trenton, serving a life sentence for murder. On November 10, 2011,
after a search of Towns' cell, the prison staff removed a case
containing twenty-four computer discs. When the discs were inspected
the following day, one disc, labeled "Brothers 2000," appeared to
contain STG material relating to the Security Threat Group*fn2
(STG) known as the "Bloods" and a second disc, labeled
"Supreme Science," contained material relating to the STG known as the
"Five Percent Nation."
After being charged with Prohibited Act *.011, Towns requested a hearing. The hearing began on November 14, 2011, wherein Towns pled not guilty and was given the assistance of a counsel substitute. Townes declined the opportunity to make a statement, present witnesses or confront adverse witnesses. The hearing was adjourned for a report from the Special Investigations Division (SID) concerning the content of the seized material. On November 15, 2011, a SID investigator reviewed a document from the disc labeled "Brothers 2000." Based upon his specialized STG training and expertise, the investigator determined in a written report that the document related to the Bloods STG because it concerned two Blood sects - the Nine Trey Gangsters and the Sandstone Hillside Beehive - and contained specific codes of conduct and rules that members must follow in order to be affiliated with the Sandstone Hillside Beehive.
On November 16, 2011, the hearing officer found Towns guilty of the charge and sanctioned him with fifteen days detention, 365 days administrative segregation, 180 days loss of commutation time, and thirty days loss of recreation privileges. Towns immediately appealed. On December 16, 2011, the Assistant Superintendent issued the final agency decision, which upheld the hearing officer's decision. This appeal followed.
On appeal, Towns raises the following arguments:
POINT I - APPELLANT WAS DENIED DUE PROCESS REQUIRED BY THE NEW JERSEY ADMINISTRATIVE CODE
(A) HEARING OFFICER DENIED APPELLANT'S DUE PROCESS PURSUANT TO N.J.A.C. 10A:9-12(A) & (D).
POINT II - THE HEARING OFFICER ERRED BY FINDING OF GUILT WHICH WAS NOT SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE PURSUANT TO N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.15.
POINT III - HEARING OFFICER ERRED BY FINDING APPELLANT GUILTY OF POSSESSING GANG RELATED MATERIALS WHEN APPELLANT CLEARLY SHOWED THAT THE MATERIALS IN QUESTION WERE OBTAINED THROUGH PROPER INSTITUTIONAL CHANNELS WHICH MEANS THAT APPELLANT HAD THE TACIT APPROVAL TO POSSESS THE MATERIALS BY PRISON AUTHORITIES.
Our review of the agency's decision here is limited. In reviewing a final DOC decision, we will defer to the agency's conclusions so long as the decision is not arbitrary or capricious and is supported by substantial credible evidence. Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J. Super. 18, 23 (App. Div. 2005) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)). "'Substantial evidence' means 'such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Figueroa v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 414 N.J. Super. 186, 192 (App. Div. 2010) (quoting In re Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 35 N.J. 358, 376 (1961)). When reviewing a DOC prison discipline decision, we consider not only whether there is substantial evidence that the inmate committed the prohibited act, but also whether, in making its decision, the DOC followed the regulations adopted to afford inmates due process. McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 194-95 (1995). Moreover, ...