By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
With jail violence out of control, a bogus task force only made things worse
When the unit tried to set up shop in the Rikers offices of the elite multi-agency gang/narcotics unit, known as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, commanders there objected. HIDTA—which includes the NYPD, Nassau, Suffolk, parole, and probations—manages huge amounts of highly sensitive information and conducts interviews with confidential informants.
"They said: 'Who are these guys? Do you know how much classified information is in here?'" a Correction source says.
LaBruzzo is one of several high-ranking Correction officials "promoted to positions of increased responsibility" by Schriro, despite histories of excessive force, according to the Nunez class action lawsuit filed earlier this year by Legal Aid's Prisoners' Rights Project. "Between 1996 and 2003, LaBruzzo was charged with six use-of-force incidents," the lawsuit says.
There also have been allegations that when LaBruzzo was warden at GRVC, staff indulged in punitive beatings of inmates to keep them under control.
"The mantra was 'Hold it down. Hold it down,'" a Correction source says.
In February, Bronx prosecutors indicted one of LaBruzzo's aides at GRVC, Deputy Warden Edwin Diaz, for attacking an inmate who had punched a female officer in 2008, and then falsifying records to cover up the assault. Diaz's union has strenuously defended him, and Diaz pleaded not guilty.
In July 2011, Schriro assigned Deputy Warden Eric Ramos to run the Central Punitive Segregation Unit, even though he had previously been repeatedly accused of involvement in or ordering brutal beatings of inmates at GRVC, including a 2008 incident in which he allegedly ordered an inmate to claim his injuries were self-inflicted.
According to the Nunez complaint, Legal Aid lawyers wrote Schriro a letter last year "detailing Ramos's history of misconduct and admitted contempt for the department's written policy" and urged he not be transferred there. The Nunez complaint claims that following Ramos's appointment to the bing—or solitary confinement—inmate complaints about beatings and threats "increased dramatically." He remains in the post.
Schriro also promoted Mark Scott to Assistant Chief of Security before he was recently replaced by Perez for reasons that remain unclear. In 1997, Scott, as security captain in the bing, was suspended for 42 days for striking a prone inmate repeatedly with a baton "as though he were spear fishing," the Nunez complaint says.
The complaint says a city administrative judge found that Scott also failed to notify superiors about the incident and submitted a false report about the assault. Since then, he has been promoted several times to the highest reaches of the DOC.
In 2008, Scott was deputy warden at RNDC when 18-year-old Christopher Robinson was murdered as part of "The Program," in which the staff deputized gang members to keep order. That incident sparked a massive investigation of the practice and lead to indictments of four officers and a dozen inmates. But Scott was made warden at another jail, the George Motchan Detention Center, and then promoted again to assistant chief of security, under LaBruzzo.
Scott was replaced in that post two months ago by Eliseo Perez, who has been caught up in the investigation surrounding the task force.
Another member of the task force, Deputy Warden Turhan Gumusdere, was in charge of security at RNDC last year—during the period when violent incidents were allegedly being covered up—and was a named defendant in the landmark Shephard class action lawsuit, which led to a court-appointed monitor in the jails.
Approximately seven other Correction staffers were assigned to the unit, including two pulled out of the depleted gang-intelligence unit.
One leg of the investigation being conducted by the DOI involves alleged false reports filed by members of the task force that claimed they found a scalpel blade used in a particularly gruesome slashing in an ultra-high-security unit at the Manhattan Detention Complex, known as the Tombs.
Under the security setup in the unit—which contains some of the most violent people in the system—inmates are not supposed to have contact, and they are supposed to be moved with mitts and shackles. But somehow, two Blood sect leaders, Sean "Coolie Weezy" Henry and Elijah "Nuke" Mack, were able to get out of their cells and slash each other, suggesting a major security breach.
The task force showed up unannounced at the Tombs. Correction Department records show that on July 11 at 12:45 p.m., Violence Reduction Task Force Officer William Williams III claimed to have found a "scalpel blade wrapped in black electrical tape on the floor against the wall" in a vestibule on the ninth floor of the Tombs.
Correction sources say that, in fact, an inmate just entering the facility, Jarrett Frost, admitted he had a scalpel, but not the one used in the slashing. Members of the unit, including Vaughn, seized the blade and then allegedly filed reports claiming they had found the weapon responsible for the slashing in a common area, sources and records show.
But an enterprising investigator and the jail warden checked the video. The video showed that the officer who claimed to find the blade never bent down and picked anything up.
Frost had just been sent to the facility and hadn't even been assigned a cell yet when he was searched by the task force, so that blade could not have possibly been used in the slashing, an attorney close to the case says.