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September 23, 2015

Rikers Correctional Officers Charged Criminally

By Michael H. Joseph

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This week two corrections officers at Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York City were criminally charged with orchestrating an attack on an inmate to settle a personal score. If convicted, these guards will be strictly liable for civil damages under the theory of collateral estoppel.

The officers reportedly locked the inmate in a vestibule, while four inmates attacked him. Even though it is the duty of corrections officers to prevent inmate on inmate attacks, the criminal allegations against the guards allege that the guards, not only were complicit in the attack, but actually orchestrated it. This comes on the heals of the recent discovery that some guards were actually members of the Bloods street gang. This is no surprise to New York civil rights lawyers who handle cases arising in Rikers Island. Normally, in an inmate on inmate attack, the Plaintiff or injured prisoner must show that the corrections officers knew or should have known about a threat to the inmate’s safety and they failed to take adequate measures to protect the inmate that was victimized. In this case, the guards are actually ordering the inmates, which clearly means they are not providing reasonable protection. While the standards for civil liability under Federal Law differ depending on whether the inmates are pre-trial detainees or convicted prisoners, the direct ordering of an assault will qualify under either. For State law claims, which require a notice of claim within 90 days of the incident, there is ordinarily negligence liability, but in this case, since it was an intentional act, the correct cause of action is facilitation of a battery and vicarious liability for the battery under agency principles.

Our clients and many other inmates have long complained that the guards are as bad as the prisoners, and these tactics are not new. We have handled cases where the guards turn inmates against other inmates because they are not down with the program and the program is doing whatever the guards say. We have seen cases where low level classification inmates are suddenly put in “hot rooms” which are housing areas where violent and gang affiliated inmates are housed as retaliation for some petty grievance. Despite efforts at so called policy reform, Rikers Island continues to have a systemic culture of violence and our New York City police misconduct lawyers will continue to handle cases for individuals injured by guards directly or by inmates at the direction of corrections officers. While prisoners are not expected to receive the best treatment and are often less sympathetic than the rest of society, we never forget that every inmate is someone’s son or daughter and more often than not, the ones who are victimized are the kids who made a mistake and suddenly find themselves around hardened criminals. While criminals are expected to pay for their crime, they are not expected to be brutalized by other inmates or those who are charged with their care and protection.

 
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