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September 12, 2018

Employer failed to prove the disciplinary charges and specifications filed against the employee by a preponderance of the credible evidence


Employer failed to prove the disciplinary charges and specifications filed against the employee by a preponderance of the credible evidence
New York Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, OATH Index No. 181/18

A correction captain was charged with using unauthorized force against an inmate and making false statements.

The inmate claimed that he was secured and not resisting when the captain jabbed him with his baton; the captain and the escort officer contended that the inmate was unsecured and struggling with the officer when the captain jabbed him. A surveillance video of the incident was not produced at trial because the Department failed to preserve it and it was purged.

The investigator, based upon review of the video and witness statements, concluded that the inmate was not resisting and the force used by the captain was unauthorized.

OATH Administrative Law Judge Joycelyn McGeachy-Kuls, however,  recommended dismissal of the charges, finding that the captain’s testimony was more credible than the inmate’s, which contained unsubstantiated allegations regarding his injuries and of being placed in a chokehold. Further, the ALJ found that the investigator’s report contained significant inconsistencies, inaccuracies and omissions, which called its reliability into question. Judge McGeachy-Kuls viewed the department for failing to preserve the video as a "negative inference"

The employer's failure to preserve the video tape referred to in this decision might be viewed as an aspect of "spoliation of evidence." Spoliation of evidence is the destruction or alteration of evidence that makes it unavailable for use in a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding. Spoliation is presumed to be damaging to the spoliator's interest with respect to proving its claims or defenses when it is intentionally changed, modified, deleted or destroyed.

In Burke v Queen of Heaven R.C. Elementary Sch., 151 AD3d 1608, the Appellate Division addressed allegations of spoilation of evidence, noting that "Where the evidence is determined to have been intentionally or wil[l]fully destroyed, the relevancy of the destroyed [evidence] is presumed."

In contrast, in Thomas v Mt. Vernon P.D., 249 A.D.2d 483, motion to appeal denied, 94 N.Y.2d 763, the employee contended that the appointing authority  failed to preserve tape recordings of telephone calls that an employee believed would helpful to the employee's defense in a disciplinary hearing.

The Appellate Division found that the record failed to show that the loss of this tape was due to bad faith on the part of the appointing authority and that the tapes in question were routinely reused after 30 days, which was “well before any disciplinary charges were brought against the individual." The court also noted that “contrary to [the employee's] contention that the tape recording was the best evidence as to whether the subject telephone call was ever made, direct evidence on that issue was offered at the hearing from the alleged parties to the conversation."

Addressing the false statement charge brought against the correction captain, the ALJ said that the charge was based upon the captain’s report on the number of jab strikes against the inmate as “one or two” in one instance and “several” in another. At the disciplinary hearing the captain explained that he believed several to mean an unspecified number. ALJ McGeachy-Kuls recommended dismissal of the charge, finding the language to be imprecise, but not false or misleading.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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