Rikers Violence: Out Of Control

Shocking images back up what we've been reporting for years: New York City's jails are houses of horror

And she said DOC is cooperating fully with the federal inquiry.

The way the Program operates is this: In Robert N. Davoren Center jargon, "kids" are the weakest inmates, "rockers" or "dudes" are the enforcers, and "the team" members are the leaders. In the dayroom, the table closest to the television is held by the team, the next closest tables by rockers, and the farthest is known as the "dick" table and reserved for weaker inmates. Inmates are said to be "on the dick" when they are weak. A "pop-off dummy" is an inmate who is ordered to fight other inmates by the leaders. Punishment includes being made to sit on the floor, also called being "on the balls." And "herbing" is the term used for getting in a fight in order to be transferred out of the unit.

This pecking order is obvious, Correction sources say, because there might be just four inmates sitting at one table and more than 10 sitting at each of the other tables. No one with gang status sits "on the dick," the sources say. Or you'll see three inmates outside of their cells and 47 locked in. Obviously, they have been ordered by the team to stay out of their cells.

In addition, some inmates use the phones much more than other inmates, even though there are restrictions on phone use. And some inmates get a lot more food than other inmates.

"Three things lead to violence on Rikers," says Joseph "Jazz" Hayden, a Harlem activist who spent several stints in city jails. "The phone, food, and the television. And the Correction Department doesn't do enough to control them to prevent violence. But it can be fixed. They just have to create and enforce a policy and motivate the Correction officers."

The teen jail, RNDC, was in the news most recently in the case of 18-year-old John Kadeem, who was badly beaten there on June 26, 2010. Kadeem suffered bleeding in the brain and internal organs and had blood in his urine.

During the course of litigation, the Correction Department was forced to disclose that a videotape of the beating had been destroyed as a routine matter. (Unless specifically preserved, Rikers video is destroyed after 60 days—a practice that investigators say is shortsighted.)

That disclosure set off a legal battle, and the federal judge in the case agreed to sanction the city. In his lawsuit, Kadeem alleged he was beaten by other inmates who controlled the unit and claimed officers let it happen.

Correction spokeswoman Sharman Stein told The New York Times there was "no evidence of staff complicity" in the fight.

According to the Times, an internal report claims that "officials did not fully investigate the incident until more than a year after the attack."

However, the Voice has obtained a report by gang-intelligence investigators that not only details the fight, but also describes the contents of the video and identifies Kadeem's attacker. That report is dated June 29, 2010, just three days after the attack.

In the report, Kadeem tells investigators that he was attacked by a youth who didn't want to sit at the dick table and wanted to increase his status.

"Video was reviewed by this writer, and the video reveals inmate [Gerald] Gayle running up to inmate Kadeem, causing him to hit the floor," an investigator writes.

Gayle told investigators that another inmate told him to hit Kadeem or "they were going to attack him."

In other words, Correction officials had the story, the motive, and the assailant in three days—rather than a year later—and the debriefing confirmed elements of the Program. It remains unclear why the full investigation took so long. Gayle was finally indicted in August 2011 on assault charges. The case is pending.

"We gave them the actual perp in three days, and they chose not to act on it," an investigator says. "They fucked up and let the guy go home."

But the Kadeem case is hardly isolated, as the documents the Voice obtained show. All of the documents the Voice reviewed for this story postdate the Robinson murder, covering 2009 to 2012.

Serious injury reports show that since January 1, inmates at RNDC have sustained 10 broken jaws, six broken noses, and three broken eye sockets. That tally doesn't count inmates who have kept quiet or who wait for treatment until after they have left the system.

On April 30, inmate James Clark suffered a broken jaw, a broken tooth, and bleeding gums, records show. The jail reported that he had been elbowed in a basketball game.

Three days later, investigators learned the truth: At the jail ward in Bellevue Hospital, Clark said his injury had nothing to do with a basketball game. He was returning to his cell when he was blindsided with a punch and knocked unconscious. He awoke to several inmates punching and kicking him in the face and torso. Clark claimed that he told the staff about the attack right away, but they refused to send him to the medical clinic. Instead, he was sent to the Rikers school. There, a more sympathetic guard let him go to the clinic, where he was transferred to Bellevue.

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