In the Matter of Department of Correction v Stanley Saint-Phard

In this disciplinary proceeding, pursuant to Article 75 of the Civil Service Law, Respondent, a Correction Officer, allegedly used impermissible force against an inmate by dispersing a chemical agent in the inmate’s face and also placed the inmate in a chokehold.

On October 16, 2008, Eric Smith, an inmate at George Motchan Detention Center was mopping up an area near the A station. Respondent entered the area and asked Smith to return to his cell. After some conversation between the two, Respondent dispersed oleoresin capsicum (“OC”) spray towards Smith’s face. Then Smith began to leave the room when Respondent grabbed him and walked him to the front of the A station wall. Smith began to remove one of his hands from the wall when Respondent brought him to the ground and restrained him.

There were several testimonies by witnesses, but the crucial evidence in this case was the videotape of the incident. The videotape did not have sound, but it depicts that Smith’s hands were behind his back when Respondent used the OC spray within a the three feet radius and is also shows that Respondent’s left arm was around Smith’s neck and he maintained that hold while forcing him to the floor.

First, the video evidence showed that Smith was compliant and not aggressive immediately prior to being sprayed and contradicts Respondent’s written statement. Respondent use of the OC spray was prohibited under the Directive 4501R-E. Directive 4501R-E states that “that dispersal of hand-held chemical agents is authorized to defend oneself, another employee, inmate or visitor, to maintain the safety and security of the facility, or to enforce Department rules where necessary to promote the good order and safety of the facility.” Also, Respondent use of the OC spray was impermissible because the directive states that use the spray in less than three feet away from the intended target because spraying the OC spray in close range can cause severe eye and skin irritation or other injuries.

Second, Respondent’s written statement he maintained that he put Smith in an upper body control hold. However, in. the videotape showed that Respondent pushed Smith up against the wall and then put his arm around Smith’s neck. Directive 5006R-C § V (C) prohibits the use of the chokehold except in situations where there is deadly physical force. According to Directive 5006R-C § V (C), you are allowed to use deadly physical when there is no other reasonable alternative to stop or prevent an escape, or when an officer must “defend him/herself of another person from what he/she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of Deadly Physical Force by the inmate.” Respondent’s use of the chokehold was unnecessary and is constituted as excessive force.

Lastly, Respondent written statement and use of force report was false and misleading and he submitted the report approximately eleven days after the incident, on October 27, 2008. When an officer is in a use of force incident, a report must be submitted before leaving the facility on the day of the incident. The only exception to this is if you are injured than the use of force report can be submitted at a later time. Respondent claimed that he sustained an injury during the use of force incident and was immediately taken to the hospital. Respondent acknowledges that he may have been back to work before October 27, but cannot provide any plausible reason as why he did not submitted the use of force report earlier.

The Administrative Law Judge has come to the following conclusions: (1) although there was no evidence of actual choking, the use of pressure around someone’s neck can potentially cause serious or even fatal consequences; (2) the use of the OC spray at a close range is also dangerous because of the risk of retinal damage with a pre-existing condition; and (3) submission of a late and misleading use of force report is wrong. Due to Respondent have no prior disciplinary record during his five years as a Correction Officer, it is recommended that Respondent be suspended for 60 days.

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