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Prison CP - November 2002

Daily Journal, Vineland, New Jersey, 1 November 2002

Officer disputes suspension for slapping inmate

By Joseph P. Smith
Staff Writer

BRIDGETON -- A South Woods State Prison guard is facing a six-month suspension for delivering a resounding slap to an inmate's bare buttocks, according to court documents.

Senior Corrections Officer Craig Davis -- a guard for more than four years -- was suspended without pay for 15 days.

He then appealed the June 6, 2001, incident involving inmate Jermaine Baskerville to an administrative law court.

In a statement released this week, the court recommended a stiffer sentence than the one levied by prison officials.

A final decision will be made by the state Merit System Board, which can adopt, modify or reject the prior court's ruling.

This is how the event unfolded, according to court records.

Davis, 30, was in charge of 20 inmates who were returning from a highway cleaning detail on a prison bus.

The detail, which was cut short due to extremely high temperatures, stopped at a Wawa before reaching the prison.

Davis fell while exiting the bus, leading to laughter and jokes among inmates, according to inmate testimony. Davis, however, denied falling.

After reaching the prison, inmates entered the prison search room to prepare for a mandatory body cavity search.

Baskerville hurriedly disrobed and entered the strip box -- a partitioned cubicle where the search takes place -- because he wanted a shower, the inmate testified.

"Going on a trip?" Davis reportedly commented after seeing the inmate already unclothed.

"No, but you did earlier," Baskerville replied, referring to the guard's alleged fall.

Another inmate called out that Baskerville would like to be slapped.

Davis then delivered an upward swing with his gloved hand, according to court records. He caught the stooping Baskerville, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, low on his buttocks and between his legs.

Baskerville, a prisoner since 1996 for distributing narcotics, immediately filed a complaint.

"It was a hard, forceful smack and my stomach hurts as I write this statement," he wrote.

Baskerville was confined to a special holding cell for about 72 hours after filing the statement. The Department of Corrections' internal affairs office interviewed him a day after the incident.

Davis, who was the only guard in the search room, denied the accusation. The Bridgeton resident appealed the 15-day suspension.

Administrative Law Judge Israel D. Dubin found Davis' testimony lacked credibility.

Dubin also found the 15-day suspension "inadequate" for the offense.

"(Davis') testimony was remarkable, not because of what he said, but the way in which he said it," Dubin wrote.

"He displayed none of the emotions one might have expected given the nature of the charge against him," he wrote.

Davis received two prior reprimands, Dubin noted.

Baskerville and three other prisoners provided testimony at the hearing in Mercerville.

Lt. Richard Battle -- Davis' superior -- also testified, though the court found his testimony suspect.

"(Battle) might have recalled more than he let on," Dubin wrote in his ruling.

Colin Lynch, a Newark attorney representing Davis, declined comment.

Copyright 2003 Daily Journal. All Rights Reserved.

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