In July, the Voice reported on violence by Rikers Island inmate gangs that, according to court testimony, had been condoned and even egged on by correction officers at the jail complex.
Some of that testimony was provided by former officer Roger Cullen, who in 2003 witnessed the near-fatal beating of an inmate by another prisoner. The attacker, Cullen testified, had essentially been deputized as an enforcer by other guards. Cullen said he was subsequently asked by another officer to falsify his report of the incident.
Cullen made repeated efforts to report widespread corruption that he had witnessed to Department of Correction officials and the Department of Investigation, but nothing was done. He was then fired.
Now, after reading the Voice‘s account, Cullen has filed a lawsuit against city jails commissioner Martin Horn in federal court in Brooklyn.
In his lawsuit, Cullen claims that he was defamed by Horn in the article.
It was from the Voice account, says Damond Carter, Cullen’s attorney, that the former guard learned for the first time that five of his supervisors had recommended to continue his employment at the end of his probationary period with the department. But Warden Valerie Oliver, after initially agreeing, changed her mind and recommended his termination for “excessive lateness,” records show.
Cullen’s last day of work was June 24, 2004. He had been late to work just 10 times in two years, and had earned a commendation for perfect attendance from Oliver herself.
But just before he was fired, Cullen sent a letter to Oliver alleging that he was being harassed by other officers “because I would not be a partner in corruption and cover-ups.”
Carter says his client previously sued the city unsuccessfully in state court for wrongful termination, but his whistleblower claims didn’t come up in that litigation.
“He didn’t know that they had initially recommended keeping him and then changed their mind,” Carter says.
That change of mind, Cullen believes, was more about his attempt to expose corruption than his job performance.
In the July story, jails chief Martin Horn told the Voice that he “rejects any inference [that Cullen’s] termination was related to the letters . . . . What came to me was excessive lateness.”
A year after Cullen made his initial allegations, a DOC investigator performed a limited examination of his claims about jail violence, interviewing just three people, and then closed the case as “unsubstantiated.”