Two women inmates who claimed to have been repeatedly raped and sexually abused by a specific correction officer at Rikers Island have been awarded a settlement agreed to by New York City of $1.2 million, a Law Department spokesman said.
The lawsuit claimed that there was a “pervasive culture of rape and other sexual abuse” at the Rose M. Singer Center, that houses female inmates on Rikers Island. The lawsuit accused the city of giving correction officers a “perceived free hand to retaliate” against women who reported them, reports the New York Times.
The two women also settled legal claims separately against the guard, for an undisclosed sum, according to the women’s attorneys. The correction officer was not represented by the city, but by his own lawyers.
Violence at Rikers Island
The State Commission of Correction recently ordered a halt to all transfers of inmates to Rikers from county jails outside New York City, on the ground that the jail complex had become too dangerous. These types of transfers typically involve special categories of inmates, such as former correction officers or gang leaders, who face a heightened risk of violence at jails in their home counties, the Times reports.
With the many problems at Rikers, the failures identified by the State Commission seem relatively minor. Housing areas at the jails were not sufficiently staffed with correction officers; electronic monitoring devices meant to ensure guards are properly performing their duties during rounds were not installed or used; officers’ private firearms were not inspected as required; and officers were routinely issued pepper spray and other chemical agents despite the fact their certifications to use such weapons had lapsed.
In addition, for two months in 2017, the Correction Department neglected to comply with a requirement to report incidents such as inmate deaths and suicide attempts to the Commission in a timely manner, according to the Times.
In April 2017, a federal monitor supervising changes at the jail complex reported that guards were continuing to use brutal force against inmates at an “alarming rate.”
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The lawsuit filed by the two women was to go to trial mid-May before Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court in Manhattan. The women, identified only as Jane Doe 1 (now in state prison) and Jane Doe 2 (living in Queens), accused the correction officer of being “a serial sexual predator,” who they said had been the subject of allegations made by, or on behalf of, female inmates for many years, the Times reports.
The correction officer raped and sexually abused Jane Doe 1 for over four years, beginning in 2008, according to the brief. Jane Doe 1 said in a declaration, she did not “complain about [the guard’s] abuse because he let me know that he could hurt my family.”
In 2013, Jane Doe 2 was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by the correction officer, according to the brief. She said she did not report the guard because he threatened to “write me an infraction and send me to solitary confinement.”
Jane Doe 2 eventually told a mental health clinician and a doctor about the guard’s abuse, the brief said, but they said there was nothing they could do. The brief criticizes the eventual investigation by the city, which it says led to the guard’s receiving no disciplinary action, reports the Times.
Law Department Statement
A Law Department spokesman said, “The city is committed to protecting all the individuals entrusted to its care from sexual abuse, and has implemented numerous reforms in this regard.” Settling the case, the spokesman said, “was in the best interest of the city.”
A correction spokeswoman revealed that the prison guard involved in the case remains employed as a correction officer, but does not have contact with inmates, the Times reports.
In the settlement, the Law Department said, the two women are to receive a total of $325,000, with the remaining $850,000 earmarked for legal fees and expenses. One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers said that after expenses had been covered, the balance would be donated to their clients.
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