Court allows suit over jail assault to proceed
A state appellate court will allow a lawsuit stemming from an assault at the Ulster County Jail to proceed.
A jury will decide whether employees at the Ulster County Jail could have reasonably foreseen that an inmate with a prior history of violence while incarcerated would attack another inmate, a state appellate court has ruled.
The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Third Department, ruled Wednesday that it would be up to a jury in state Supreme Court in Ulster County to determine whether employees at the jail failed to take action to address a reasonably foreseeable threat that resulted in the assault of Patrick J. Wassman Jr. while he was an inmate.
The decision reverses an earlier judgment in state Supreme Court that dismissed the complaint against the defendants, including Ulster County.
Attorney Kevin Bloom, who represented Wassman, said his client had been incarcerated at the Ulster County Jail on a misdemeanor charge stemming from the violation of an order of protection. While Wassman was being held at the jail, Bloom said, he was assaulted by another inmate who had previously been involved in aggressive incidents while incarcerated at other correctional facilities.
The assault at the Ulster County Jail occurred July 13, 2010.
On appeal, Wassman argued the defendants were negligent by not taking into account his assailant’s violent conduct while previously imprisoned and by not taking steps to place that inmate in “close custody” at the jail, rather than in the general population.
According to the appellate court ruling, the defendants claimed they did not have actual knowledge that the assailant had violent propensities and the information they had regarding him gave them no reason to believe he had a specific problem with Wassman.
In response, Wassman argued the defendants failed to obtain records related to his assailants prior time in state prison. Had that information had been obtained, the court ruled, the defendants would have known the assailant had engaged in violent conduct while imprisoned in 2003 and 2005.
Bloom said all jails in the state are required to obtain information about an inmate’s prior behavior if they have previously been incarcerated.
He said the jail scores its inmates to determine whether to house them in the general population or in “close custody,” and the information on Wassman’s assailant would have scored him out of general population, preventing the assault.
Attorney Robert Cook of Kingston, who represented the defendants, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Bloom said that as a result of the assault, Wassman required reconstructive surgery of his face, and now has a metal plate in his face.
Bloom added that Wassman, who is now 25, is incapable of caring for himself or working as a result of the assault.
“He can do minimal things, but he’s not going to be able to find gainful employment,” Bloom said. He said a court in the state of Florida has appointed Wassman’s parents as his guardians.
Bloom said the lawsuit in Supreme Court would seek damages for Wassman, but the amount of those damages is currently undetermined.
Attorney Robert Isseks, who also represented Wassman, said the failure of the jail to follow state regulations in obtaining the assailant’s prior history is evidence of negligence that will be presented at trial.
He said the jail does not regularly obtain records on inmates unless they are being transferred from another facility.
The entrance to the Ulster County Jail in Kingston.