New York City has agreed to pay a settlement of about $1.2 million in a lawsuit filed by two women who allege they were repeatedly raped and sexually abused by a correction officer at Rikers Island, the city’s main jail complex.
The lawsuit alleged that there was a “pervasive culture of rape and other sexual abuse” at the Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s jail on Rikers, the New York Times reports.
Lawsuit Highlights Correction Officers “Free Hand” in Inmate Abuse
The lawsuit accused the city of giving correction officers a “perceived free hand to retaliate” against women who reported them. Lawyers for the women say they reached a separate settlement with the officer, Benny Santiago, for an undisclosed sum. The city did not represent Mr. Santiago, who had his own lawyers. The plaintiffs accused Mr. Santiago 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.
Violence at the Rikers Island complex has been under intense public scrutiny, the Times reports. The State Commission of Correction recently halted inmate transfers to Rikers from jails outside the city on the grounds that the Rikers had become too dangerous. A federal monitor overseeing changes at Rikers recently reported that brutal force against prisoners was still occurring at an “alarming rate.”
Injury attorneys at Parker Waichman note numerous incidents of sexual abuse, beatings, and other mistreatment at prisons and jails across New York. Prisoners who report incidents say guards and staff often retaliate with further violence or other mistreatment, including destroying the inmates’ personal property. Some prisoners say they are warned not to seek medical treatment for injuries or they would be beaten again. Though there are surveillance cameras in most areas of prisons and jails, inmates say guards know locations where there are no cameras or they know how to block the camera’s view of a violent incident.
Some complaints have involved people who were held for long periods while awaiting trial. Kalief Browder spent nearly three years on Rikers Island after he was accused, at age 16, of stealing a backpack. Browder maintained his innocence and refused several offers of a plea deal. He spent much of his time on Rikers in solitary confinement. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges and Browder was released. In an article in the New Yorker, writer Jennifer Gonnerman reports that Browder struggled to readjust to life out of out of jail. But his mental deteriorated and in 2015, he committed suicide.
Browder’s case prompted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to do away with solitary confinement for 16 and 17-year-olds and to urge efforts to clear state court case backlogs so the accused will have their cases resolved more quickly.
Repeated Rapes and Beatings at Rikers
In court filings, the two women were identified only as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. Jane Doe 1 is now in a state prison and Jane Doe 2 resides in Queens. According to the brief, Mr. Santiago raped and sexually abused Jane Doe 1 for more than four years, starting in 2008. In a declaration, Jane Doe 1 said she did not “complain about Santiago’s abuse because he let me know that he could hurt my family.”
Jane Doe 2 was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by Mr. Santiago in 2013, according to the Times. She said that she did not report him because he threatened to have her put in solitary confinement. Eventually, though, she told a mental health counselor and a doctor about Mr. Santiago. The brief from the two Jane Does is highly critical of the city’s investigation, which, the brief says, led to no disciplinary action against Santiago. Santiago is still employed as a correction officer but does not have contact with inmates, a correction spokeswoman said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a statement, “We hope this settlement delivers some justice and underscores the bona fide culture of sexual harassment, abuse and impunity” among correction officers at the Rose M. Singer Center.
The Law Department says the settlement gives the two women a total of $325,000; the remaining $850,000 will go to legal fees and expenses. One of the attorneys said that after his firm’s expenses had been covered, the firm would donate the balance to the women.
Legal Help for Victims Injured or Sexually Assaulted by Corrections Officers
If a jail or prison inmate has been assaulted or abused by a corrections officer, the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can help evaluate the inmate’s legal options. For a free, confidential case evaluation, the inmate or a representative can contact the firm by filling out the online contact form or by calling 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).