What the Jail Guard Saw

Rikers officers encourage gang violence: surprising testimony and the stats to back it up

Overall, he said, correction officers are much better at using limited force to restrain an inmate when necessary.

In the year since the Ingles settlement, 100 more inmates have complained about excessive force, many of them with serious injuries that have been documented, Chasan says. Reported injuries in the past year included broken eye orbitals, broken teeth, broken noses, and head trauma.

A newly emerging related trend, according to Chasan, involves correction officers allowing or encouraging the beating of one inmate by another. "We are seeing an increasing number of complaints of inmate-on-inmate violence with illegal staff complicity," he says.

photo: Andrew Lichtenstein


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Last fall, according to Manhattan lawyer Joel Berger, a correction officer in the George Motchan Detention Center allegedly encouraged one inmate to severely assault a second inmate. Berger is representing the victim of the assault.

"Annoyed that the inmate was on the phone too long, the guard opened a gate and handed a broomstick to the [second] inmate and essentially said, 'Go take care of business,' " Berger says. "It was a very deliberate act on part of the officer." The victim, whose name is being withheld by the Voice at Berger's request, sustained a broken nose, stitches over one eye, and blurred vision.

According to Berger, the Department of Investigation and the DOC are aware of the allegations, but eight months later have yet to interview two eyewitnesses. The Department of Investigation, Berger says, has passed the case back to the DOC.

"I've handled two or three of these kinds of cases, and in the past there has been a full investigation," Berger says. "In this case, I don't get that sense at all. It appears that there's a total lack of interest."

Both the Department of Investigation and the DOC declined to comment on the matter.

Last March, in another "house gang" case, a Bronx jury convicted a Bloods leader in the stomping death of 21-year-old Tyreece Abney at the George Motchan Detention Center in October 2004.

During the investigation into his death, authorities learned that one of Abney's assailants had been receiving extra phone and mail privileges from a correction officer, who was also mailing coded messages for him, a law enforcement source says.

Abney, 21, of the Bronx, was sent to Rikers on a minor drug charge. He was mentally retarded, on anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs, and had a record of poor behavior in the jails. Three weeks earlier, he had been moved out of a mental-observation ward and into the general population.

According to Susan Karten, a Manhattan lawyer representing the Abney family, Abney told his sister Yvonda that he had been moved abruptly after he said something to offend a guard. He was then moved a number of other times before he wound up in the unit where he was killed.

"No expert looked at him and said he was fit to move into general population," Karten says.

On the day he died, Abney had a loud argument with one of the correction officers. About a half-hour before the fatal attack, a correction officer told the inmates on his floor, "You men in the house, you need to speak to the new inmates, you need to get your house in order," trial testimony showed.

Shortly after that, three inmates cornered Abney, told him to "fly right," and started to pummel him.

One inmate, Charles Rosario, testified that he saw the fight but went back to listening to music in his cell. "Those fights occur on a daily basis, and when one sees yet one more fight, it's no big deal," he said.

After that, the correction officers decided to remove Abney from the floor, but they failed to lock in the other inmates following the first assault, trial testimony showed.

As he was being escorted out, Abney exchanged words with another inmate. Suddenly, Abney was surrounded by a swarm of inmates and fatally beaten.

The attack happened so quickly, the officers could not stop it. Even so, they never pushed the alarms that would have brought more help, trial testimony showed.

One correction officer did shout, "Stop, you're going to kill him!"

"It was inexcusable for the officers not to call for help," Karten says. "And they should have locked the other inmates in when they walked him out of the unit."

Abney died while waiting for a bed in a drug-treatment program, said his sister Yvonda.

Within hours of the fatal beating, inmates had alleged on videotape that correction officers were culpable in the attack.

And yet, more than two years later, not one correction employee has been charged or even disciplined. Nor has there been any explanation why Abney was moved into the general population when he exhibited serious psychiatric problems.

"They got the people responsible for the assault itself, but why not assign someone else to look at the conduct of the correction officers?" Karten says.

But according to Horn, Abney was evaluated by mental-health professionals and found fit to be transferred out of the observation unit. "The reason Tyreece Abney is dead is that Amir Douglas assaulted him," Horn says, referring to the gang leader convicted in Abney's death.

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