City Jails Slapped With Major Class Action Lawsuit, Alleging Pattern of Staff Brutality


The city Correction Department has been hit with a new very toughly worded class action lawsuit alleging a program of excessive violence by correction staff on inmates throughout the jail system.

Eleven inmates allege that they were severely beaten by correction staff, including Mark Nunez who claims he was maced, struck repeatedly with a radio, stripped and taunted, for intervening in a dispute.

“Members of the uniformed staff regularly apply unnecessary, excessive, and injurious force to beat inmates under circumstances where, at most, some minimal, non-injurious restraint may have been justified to control the inmates,” the lawsuit claims.

Rodney Brye was knocked unconscious while handcuffed in one incident, and suffered spinal injuries. Today, Brye can’t walk without limping and can’t run at all, the lawsuit claims.

Shameik Smallwood was taken to a room with no video cameras in a headlock, handcuffed, and beaten by four staffers, while a captain looked on. He suffered a badly broken nose when required facial surgery.

Travis Woods was beaten badly, and then threatened in the medical clinic by staffers who didn’t want him to disclose the beating or the extent of his injuries, the lawsuit claims. He was finally diagnosed with a perforated eardrum, among other injuries.

There’s more, but you get the picture.

Perhaps most troublingly, the lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid’s Prisoners Rights Project and two private law firms, charges that rather than firing or demoting offending officers, they were rewarded with promotions; some to the highest echelons of the department, including Chief Carmine LaBruzzo. Between 1996 and 2003, LaBruzzo was charged in six use of force incidents. He was promoted and is now now the second-ranking uniformed department official.

Defendant Eric Ramos was a captain at a jail in 2002, where he allegedly lured an inmate out of his cell and ordered officers to assault him. He was then promoted to deputy warden, and transferred to the central punitive segregation unit, where the most violent inmates are held. Since that transfer, the lawsuit claims, the level of unnecessary force by staff has increased dramatically.

Defendant Mark Scott was a security captain in the CPSU in 1997, where he beat an inmate and tried to cover up the incident. He was suspended for 42 days, but was then promoted to Assistant Chief of Security for the entire department.

There have been five previous class action lawsuits filed about the DOC. This lawsuit, the sixth, claims that once a consent decree, which had helped reduce staff on inmate violence, was lifted several years ago, things got worse.

While the introduction of videos cameras in the system was supposed to stem the violence, the lawsuit claims that staff often take inmates to areas where there are no cameras and beat them there, naked and handcuffed.

The document cites settlements totaling about $5 million dollars since 2002 in which inmates were severely injured by correction staff.

As for the top officials in DOC including Commissioner Dora Schriro, Investigations boss Florence Finkle, Labruzzo, Scott and Chief of Department Hourihane, “Their failure to take measures to curb this pattern of brutality constitutes deliberate indifference to the rights and safety of the inmates in their care and custody,” the lawsuit claims.

Finkle, the lawsuit claims, “has taken no meaningful steps to address these deplorable facts repeatedly brought to her attention,” the lawsuit claims. She systematically fails to conduct meaningful investigations into DOC uses of force. When her office does investigate, it fails to follow guidelines and shows bias in favor of officers’ accounts.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit claims, that staff routinely falsify documents or lie to cover up the beatings. They also threaten inmates to keep their mouths shut.

So, what does Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro think about the lawsuit? Correction Department spokeswoman Sharman Stein said, “To suggest, much less allege, that the department condones improper uses of force in any way ignores the reality of the Department’s many actions to the contrary.”

She went on to suggest that the 11 incidents cited in the complaints are not evidence of a systematic program of condoning guard abuse.