By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
In the seven months since a Manhattan federal court judge found that officer Billy M. Jones's lawsuit, alleging that the New York City Department of Correction discriminated against him by subjecting him to a "hostile work environment," indeed had merit and should go to trial, the jailhouse guard has not been able to savor the ruling.
At Rikers Islandwhere his car and those of several other African American officers were shot up with a BB gun, and a dead fish was left on the desk of an officer who had complained about racist graffiti on a bathroom wall, four years agoJones allegedly has been repeatedly harassed by supervisors seeking to tarnish his credibility on the eve of the trial.
Jones's $7.5 million discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the Department of Correction is set for trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on September 17. But even the choice of an arbiter has been mired in judicial politics.
In a move Jones considers highly suspicious, John G. Koeltlwho on March 15 approved Jones's suit for trial was reassigned only two weeks before the trial. The explosive case is now in the hands of Judge Samuel Conti. Speaking through his attorney, Jones blasted the judge's last-minute switch.
The alleged harassment of Jones, an ordained minister, continued in the face of the judge's landmark decision. On April 4, Jones was summoned to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) at 60 Hudson Street in Manhattan for a department hearing on his controversial complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Because Jones had been stripped of his DOC-issued Smith and Wesson pistol, and feared it was unsafe to walk the streets in a uniform that clearly identified him as a corrections officer, he showed up in plainclothes. Administrative Law Judge Christopher D. Kerr recommended that Jones be suspended and docked three days' pay for not wearing his uniform to the hearing.
"There can be no doubt, Officer Jones's concern for safety was sincere," the guard's union-appointed attorney Steven Isaacs argued in an August 24 letter to DOC commissioner William Fraser, asking Fraser to reject Kerr's recommendation. "Both Captain Shehee and Captain Wright acknowledged the potential dangers faced by corrections officers while they are in uniform and traveling in public. Surely, as a former officer yourself, you must appreciate the legitimate concern Officer Jones had for his safety."
Isaacs detailed "many aspects of this case which are troubling," contending that Kerr gave short shrift to Jones's explanation. Among the factors Isaacs has asked the commissioner to consider before passing judgment are:
Jones later appeared before the judge in uniform. But after the hearing, the DOC allegedly exposed him to danger. "Officer Jones was left in full uniform in the lobby of 40 Rector Street for approximately two hours waiting for transportation," Isaacs complained in his letter to the DOC commissioner. "Again, Officer Jones's safety was placed at risk due to the Department's failure to act in the best interest of its members." The attorney asserted that in the wake of Jones's complaint against the department, the brouhaha over the uniform appears to be retaliatory. "Commissioner," Isaacs concluded, "if the purpose of the disciplinary process is to ensure a productive workforce, the suspension of Officer Jones, under the circumstances, will serve no purpose at all."