By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Rikers Con Job
With jail violence out of control, a bogus task force only made things worse
A shadowy jail "violence reduction" unit linked to a top Corrections Department official is under investigation for falsifying reports, beating inmates, and violating department regulations, the Voice has learned.
The plainclothes unit, known as the "violence-reduction task force" or "special search squad," allegedly operated outside the rules, Correction sources say. The unit was not properly cleared to perform sensitive investigative work, and its members were improperly assigned to the unit and entered jails without following security procedures.
The city Department of Investigation is probing a range of allegations, including filing false reports about the discovery of a weapon at the Manhattan jail known as the Tombs and punitive beatings of inmates in the George R. Vierno Center and the West Facility on Rikers Island. One of those inmates suffered broken facial bones.
The DOC's Assistant Chief of Security, Eliseo Perez, who was involved with the unit, retired after being formally interviewed about his alleged role in a July 11 beating of an inmate in GRVC. (In an odd reversal last week, with the investigation still pending, Perez withdrew his retirement papers.)
Perez's boss, Deputy Chief of Department Carmine LaBruzzo, the man who formed the unit earlier this year, is also facing scrutiny. LaBruzzo is the second ranking uniformed official in the DOC behind Chief of Department Michael Hourihane.
LaBruzzo's top aide, Captain Gerald Vaughn, has been questioned, along with half a dozen other task force members. Several of them have refused to cooperate with the investigation unless they were given immunity from prosecution, sources say.
"[LaBruzzo] basically created his own rogue gang-intelligence unit out of people who never would have been cleared to do investigations,"
a Correction source tells the Voice. "This is at a time when the real gang-intelligence unit has been cut by 35 percent."
Another member of the unit, Deputy Warden Turhan Gumusdere, was linked to allegations of a cover-up of inmate fights and use-of-force incidents last year in the Robert N. Davoren Center, the jail that houses teenagers. That cover-up is part of a separate probe.
Diane Struzzi, a spokeswoman for the Department of Investigation, declined to comment when asked about the investigations.
In response to a Voice inquiry, Correction Department spokeswoman Sharman Stein gave this statement: "The DOC cannot and will not comment on allegations that are in the process of being investigated. Moreover, The Village Voice should not draw conclusions about assertions that are in the process of being investigated and thereby compromise an ongoing investigation."
These investigations come during a difficult period in Commissioner Dora Schriro's tenure. Slashings, fights, attacks on Correction officers, and staff uses of force are all on the rise this year. At least 40 slashings were officially recorded at Rikers in the first six months of this year, a rate double that of last year. There were 84 major assaults on staff by inmates.
A federal investigation into violence and misreporting of fights and other incidents is ongoing, and a major class action lawsuit alleging widespread continued staff violence against inmates was recently filed. In part, that lawsuit alleges that Schriro promoted to senior positions staffers who have long histories of encouraging excessive force against inmates.
Meanwhile, some of the worst slashings recorded this year have taken place in high-security areas, where inmates aren't even supposed to come in contact, much less possess weapons and attack one another. These incidents suggest breakdowns in security.
On July 9, at GRVC, inmate Corey Parron was slashed by another inmate, Donald White, in a high-security unit where inmates are supposed to be moved using mitts to cover their hands and enhanced restraints. White had somehow obtained a titanium scalpel blade, which he used in the attack. (Titanium blades don't show up in magnetometer scans, so the jails have introduced body-imaging machines.)
"His whole face was hanging off," a Correction source says. "This is one of the worst slashings that's happened in a long time."
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed last week alleges that inmate Dwaine Taylor twice suffered a broken jaw at the hands of Blood gang members in 2011, and those attacks were condoned by staff—a practice that DOC officials claim had been stopped.
The city was recently fined $10,000 by a federal judge for failing to turn over hundreds of gang-intelligence reports to lawyers for Kadeem John, a former inmate severely beaten on Rikers. A videotape that would have shown John's beating wasn't preserved, and the man responsible was released, even though Correction officials had a report that identified him within two days of the assault.
And now, the revelations about the rogue unit raise questions about Schriro's ability, in an agency known for its minefield-laden political landscape, to keep her subordinates in line.
Most of the members of the shadow unit had worked in the George R. Vierno Center with LaBruzzo, a former warden there.
In creating the unit, LaBruzzo bypassed personnel rules, Correction sources say. The jobs were never posted as required. The transfers were never formally approved, and they were improperly working outside of their official assignments.
Members of the unit—some of them facing disciplinary charges or investigations of their own—were not formally cleared to do investigative work. They walked into jails without getting prior approval and didn't, in some cases, even sign security logbooks.