From the depths of Rikers Island comes an appalling case of alleged jailhouse brutality, involving correction officers beating a handcuffed inmate within an inch of his life for protesting after he was denied a baloney sandwich, the Voice has learned.
The April 3 assault on 26-year-old Robert Hinton in the George R. Vierno Center on Rikers is currently under internal investigation, but he was choked so badly during the beating, his eyeballs filled with blood, and his face swelled to three times its normal size, his mother and his lawyer tell the Voice.
“His nose is broken, his lips are broken and bruised, his tongue is cut, he has two loose front teeth,” says his mother, Parys Johnson. “You pull up his eyelids and you see nothing but blood.”
Investigators have visited Hinton to take pictures, and are interviewing witnesses. Five to 8 officers were involved, including a supervisory captain. Their work status is currently unknown.
The incident began when Hinton refused to be transferred to another unit without getting his baloney sandwich. He sat down in protest on the tier, and refused to cooperate.
“When he came back from court, he was told he was being moved,” Johnson says. “He was hungry. He sat down and wasn’t going to move. They got angry.”
Under jailhouse rules, a protesting inmate is required to be moved via stretcher by a specially trained team of officers. Instead, evidently irate guards handcuffed him with plastic zip ties and dragged him into a cell, beat him against the bars. Only after he had passed out from the beating, was a stretcher called.
Hinton told his lawyer that he woke up on the floor. Someone was giving him CPR. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital and then the jail ward at Bellevue Hospital for treatment. After a couple of days there, he was returned to Rikers and is now housed at the North Infirmary Command, where sick and injured detainees are held.
No Correction Department officials bothered to call Johnson to notify her about her son’s injuries. Instead, she found out through another inmate, who called her when he was released. “He tells me this horrific story,” she says. “The officers beat your son and he wasn’t breathing. He says they beat him so bad there was blood everywhere. The obvious thing that went through my mind is why didn’t anyone from Rikers contact me.”
The correction officers involved have claimed that Hinton assaulted them, but hs lawyer Cynthia Conti-Cook says that’s impossible. “In order for that to occur, he would have had to be uncuffed,” she says. “But he’s in a facility where you have to put your hands through a cuffing port to be uncuffed. So, their description of the facts makes no sense. It’s just indicative of the lengths they will go to lie to cover this up.”
DOC spokeswoman Sharman Stein says, “We are investigating this incident.”
We should note that Hinton has been incarcerated since he was 17 years old, and has previously been arrested twice in Rikers, for assaulting a correction officer and an inmate. He has also had a number of other disciplinary problems, and has a lawsuit pending against the jail system.
Hinton has been held at Rikers for four years, an unusually long time for a pending case. (His original charge of attempted murder was reduced to assault.)
“I don’t know what to do,” Johnson says. “I didn’t even think they could keep you there that long. It’s torture to go to court over and over again.”
Queens District Attorney spokeswoman Helen Peterson explains: “He is awaiting sentencing and there are some legal issues being worked out.”