The correctional officer-jail inmate relationship is often a fraught one, rife with resentment, misunderstandings and violence. But sometimes, just sometimes, the two groups can put aside their differences and work together. That’s the silver lining we can take from the news that two current Rikers COs, Steven Dominguez and Divine Rahming, have been charged with smuggling cocaine and oxycodone into the prison with the help of an inmate and his girlfriend. Another former Rikers guard, Deleon Gifth, who resigned earlier this year, was arrested Monday on charges that he was paid $500 to deliver what he thought was oxycodone to an inmate back in February.
If you feel like you’re hearing about more arrests of guards at Rikers lately, you are: the New York City Department of Investigation, Department of Correction, a special “Strike Force” within the Drug Enforcement Agency’s local office, and a New York City special narcotics prosecutor have been using wiretaps to investigate allegations of drug trafficking and various other sorts of corruption at the jail complex for five months. They’ve dubbed it “Operation Correction Connection,” and it’s been fruitful: in June, two officers and 20 inmates were arrested on smuggling charges.
Those two officers were Dominguez, 26, and Rahming, 30, who were originally indicted on charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony. But the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, Bridget G. Brennan, announced yesterday that the men are being re-indicted on additional charges, including narcotics conspiracy and possession, bribery and contraband smuggling. Gifth faces similar charges, in what authorities say was a completely unrelated case of smuggling.
According to Brennan’s office, undercover Department of Investigation officers, posing as family and friends of Rikers inmates, met with Dominguez and Rahming five times between February 25 and June 23 of this year. The meetings took place in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, and the officers, Brennan’s office says “received contraband and payment for introducing the contraband into Rikers Island during these meetings.” The officers got what they believed was oxycodone, which they charged between $500 and $900 for delivering.
Yasel Suarez, the girlfriend of a man named George Ramos, who was incarcerated at Rikers and is currently serving time in state prison, also got what she thought was oxycodone from an undercover officer. She then delivered the “drugs” to Dominguez. Both Suarez and the indicted COs were wiretapped by the investigators, who listened to them discuss the drug deals on their cellphones.
Brennan’s office says the men also agreed to transport cocaine “in a deal struck in a shack outside the jail.” The press release adds, “On June 9, DOMINGUEZ met with an undercover DEA agent assigned to the Strike Force to offer his services for drug deliveries. During the conversation, DOMINGUEZ stated that he had a badge and a gun. Four days later, on June 13, 2014, DOMINGUEZ delivered a bag of what he believed to be more than eight ounces of cocaine to an undercover DEA agent.”
Dominguez and Rahming were arrested in a Bronx parking lot five days later by members of the DEA strike force and the Department of Investigation. They had eight ounces of cocaine with them, as well as various other “contraband items,” Brennan’s office says, including marijuana wrapped in foil. (The New York Times previously reported that the pot was found in Dominguez’s car.)
The charges are the latest in what hasn’t been such a hot year for Rikers, PR-wise. A mentally ill veteran baked to death in his cell in February. Another former guard was indicted for ignoring another mentally disturbed inmate who’d swallowed a ball of laundry detergent back in 2012. The man died. A Times investigation found a widespread culture of Rikers guards brutalizing mentally ill inmates. And Occupy activist and brief Rikers resident Cecily McMillan has told us — and expanded in a Times editorial — that she saw female inmates being denied medical care and routinely mistreated, brutalized and humiliated.