September 29, 2014

Judge: Rikers Guards and Captain Ought to be Fired

Aerial photograph of Rikers Island
Aerial Photo of Rikers Isalnd
In a decision today, Administrative Law Judge Tynia Richard called for six NYC Department of Corrections officers, including a Captain, to be fired, after finding that they hog-tied an inmate, broke one of his vertebra, fractured his nose, and left him with both eyes swollen shut and his face bloody, and then lied about their conduct and falsified their reports. The NY Times called it a "rare rebuke," and they're not wrong.

Vicious guard on inmate violence is not new to Rikers, nor is it uncommon. In fact, it has become somewhat institutionalized. See here, here, and here. What is new is the acknowledgement and rejection of this brazen misconduct. Arrest after arrest of guards for assaults and cover ups appears to be slowly making an imprint on the public's  conscience. It's a welcome change, albeit one that is incurring only incrementally.

As is evident in the NYPD, law enforcement seems to be one of those rare fields where engaging in deliberate misconduct often doesn't carry any real penalties. If a fry cook was caught urinating in the soup down at your local diner, or if a doctor was nabbed stealing organs or conducting operations while intoxicated, odds are they wouldn't hold onto their jobs. If an attorney were sued multiple times for deliberately engaging in misconduct, he'd certainly be fired, if not suspended or disbarred. But law enforcement officers are another story. 

A number of police officers and detectives are sued repeatedly, without any employment consequences of any sort. I have deposed numerous officers and their supervisors about the relationship between lawsuits and employment within the NYPD. The constant answer? There is no relationship. Officers don't tell their supervisors about lawsuits (unless the bosses are also being sued), and their supervisors don't ask and don't care. It's really no different for DOC guards. The City pays lawyers to defend them and pays off the lawsuits. But the litigation is entirely disconnected from the supervision over their employment. Having announced that they don't care if their employees violate the Constitution on a regular basis, nobody ought to be surprised that it continues to happen.

Preet Bahrara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District, has threatened legal action if the City of New York doesn't clean up it's act. The odds of that happening are slight, although you should bet heavy money on cosmetic changes, chest thumping, and finger wagging. Let's see if it's enough to keep the feds out of the DOC's business.

Congrats to the Times for their ongoing quality investigation into Rikers.

No comments:

Post a Comment