By Mark Wilson
On September 4, 2013, a New York federal district court held that a jail official was precluded from testifying in a prisoner’s lawsuit about what she supposedly witnessed on surveillance video footage that had been erased. The court also granted the prisoner’s request for an adverse inference jury instruction and attorney’s fees.
In May 2011, guards did not intervene as New York City jail detainee Dwaine Taylor was savagely beaten by several gang members, including Batise Boyce, in a courthouse holding cell. He wasn’t removed from the cell for approximately three hours.
When Taylor was finally taken to an emergency room, he was diagnosed with “jaw fractures on both … sides of his face,” an impacted tooth and another loose tooth. During surgery the next day, doctors closed the “jaw fractures with a metal plate and screws,” removed one of his teeth and wired his jaw shut. Taylor was hospitalized for three days and then returned to the infirmary at the Rikers Island jail, where he remained for another month.
Within 15 days, officials prepared “an investigation ‘package’ recommending that Boyce be ‘re-arrested’ for assaulting” Taylor. That package included copies of surveillance video footage. One week later, Boyce was indicted.
Taylor served notice of his intent to sue and on July 31, 2012 filed a failure to protect suit against jail officials in federal court. He alleged that the assault was sanctioned by guards “under a widespread practice called ‘the Program,’” which permitted gang members to attack other non-gang-associated prisoners as a means of control.
“A ceiling-mounted, twenty-four hour surveillance camera” captured events in the holding cell during the assault. Assistant Deputy Warden Executive Officer Jacqueline Brantley reviewed the entire three hours of the video but saved just eight minutes, and the remaining footage was erased.
On June 7, 2013, Taylor moved for spoliation of evidence sanctions. The defendants claimed they had no duty to preserve the remaining three hours of video footage and that Brantley should be allowed to testify as to what the rest of the footage depicted.
The district court disagreed, holding that Brantley was precluded from testifying about what she observed on the deleted surveillance footage. The court also granted Taylor’s request for an adverse inference jury instruction and an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs in connection with the motion for sanctions.
The case settled in October 2013, with the defendants agreeing to pay $500,000 inclusive of fees and costs. Taylor was represented by the Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP. See: Taylor v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:12-cv-05881-RPP.
(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)