FORMER INMATE WINS SUIT AGAINST SOUTHPORT CORRECTION OFFICERS

JASON WHONG. Elmira Star-Gazette.  Elmira, NY: April 29, 2013

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A former inmate at Southport Correctional Facility who accused correction officers of beating him in 2008 while he was in handcuffs has won a lawsuit against the officers.

A jury in U.S. District Court in Rochester on Thursday found in favor of inmate Jean Belot, 51, in his $4 million civil-rights suit against the officers.

The jury found five of six accused officers liable and awarded Belot $65,000 in compensatory damages and $55,000 in punitive damages for a total of $120,000, said attorney Glenn Miller, of New York, who represented Belot.

The Southport officers who were found liable are Craig Skelly, Brian Evans, James Gilbert and Peter Mastrantonio, Miller said.  Sgt. Brian Curren was found liable for failing to stop the beating, Miller said.  Another officer, Sgt. Daniel Chapman, was found not liable in the incident.

"(Chapman) actually, at one point during the assault, told them to stop," Miller said Friday.  "If he hadn't told them to stop, it would have been a lot worse than it was, so I feel sort of glad that the jury found Chapman to be not liable."

COMPLAINT

In court documents, Belot accused Skelly, Evans, Gilbert and Mastrantonio of beating him while he was in handcuffs on Dec. 30, 2008, inside the prison.

The four punched and kicked him in the face, head and body, yanked his dreadlocks from his scalp, nearly dislocated his shoulders by forcing his restrained arms above his head and inserted a stick, baton or other hard object into his rectum, according to the complaint.

The suit also accused Chapman and Curren of intentionally failing to stop the abuse.

Belot suffered broken ribs and was emotionally and psychologically affected by the beating, according to the complaint.

PENALTY

New York state will pay the $65,000 in compensatory damages because the accused where acting as state employees in the incident, Miller said.  Of the $55,000 in punitive damages, the jury found Curren liable for $15,000, while Skelly, Evans, Gilbert, and Mastrantonio were found liable for $10,000.

"Apparently, they were even more angry at Sgt. Curren for failing to do his job supervising these officers properly," Miller said.

It wasn't clear whether the state would also pay the punitive damages, Miller said.  Tom Mailey, director of public information for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, declined to comment on Friday because he hadn't  been briefed about the situation.  Curren, Mastrantonio and Skelly could not be reached for comment.  Chapman declined to comment.

Morgan Hook, spokesman for NYSCOPBA, the union that represents correction officers, said Friday that the union is disappointed by the verdict.  "We think that the fact that the award was so much smaller than what the plaintiff was asking for is a reflection of the evidence that was on hand for the judge," Hook said.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not respond to an inquiry about the employment status of the officers.

CHARGES POSSIBLE

So far, the correction officers have not been prosecuted in the incident.  Miller said they could face assault, misconduct and weapon charges.

"That's in the discretion of the county district attorney," he said.

Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore declined to comment on Friday because he had not been notified of the suit or the verdict until he spoke with a reporter from this newspaper.

Belot is now held at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, Dutchess County, according to state records.  He is eligible for release as early as January.  He is serving a sentence of 20 years to life on a weapon possession conviction.