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COs drop claim as FBI probe their role in assault

The four officers accused of taking part in the inmate’s beating claim he lied about the incident and overstated his injuries

By Brendan J. Lyons
Times Union

ALBANY, N.Y. — Two former state correction officers who were fired for allegedly taking part in the severe beating of an inmate have dropped a federal lawsuit they filed seeking to get their jobs back.

The dismissal comes as an attorney for the former prison officers, Kathy L. Scott and George Santiago Jr., recently asked a federal judge in Albany to put the case on hold because the attorney said the FBI is investigating the November 2013 incident at the maximum-security Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill.

An arbitrator found “credible evidence” that multiple officers took part in beating Kevin Moore, a 56-year-old inmate and repeat felon serving 20 years in prison for a burglary conviction. Witnesses said Moore was punched, hit with a baton and kicked. He suffered broken ribs, a collapsed lung, eye-socket fractures and bruised legs.

An internal investigation began not long after officers from New York City’s Rikers Island jail refused to take Moore into their custody the day after the beating unless his injuries were documented and photographed, according to court records. Moore was hospitalized for two weeks when the Rikers officers, who were supposed to bring him to a court hearing, instead brought him to a New York City hospital.

The circumstances of Moore’s beating were revealed through court filings in the federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Albany by Scott, who was a correction sergeant for 17 years, and Santiago, who was a correction officer since 2006. They claimed their jobs were terminated because of their minority status and that two white officers found guilty of the same conduct — taking part in the beating and lying about what happened — were disciplined but not fired.

One of the officers, Carson Morris, resigned and no longer works for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Another, Donald Cosman, remains employed at Downstate prison.

The disclosure of the FBI’s investigation into Moore’s beating is part of a widening probe by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan into accusations that rogue state prison officers may have systematically beaten or tortured inmates at multiple prison facilities.

Last fall, the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said it was investigating whether a group of officers at Fishkill Correctional Facility, which is less than two miles south of the Downstate prison facility, beat a mentally ill inmate to death last April. The death of Samuel D. Harrell III, whose alleged assailants were known as the “Beat Up Squad,” brought widespread attention and sparked a federal wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Harrell’s widow, Diane. At the request of Bharara’s office, the lawsuit was stayed pending the outcome of the federal criminal investigation.

Damond J. Carter, an attorney for Santiago and Scott, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The four officers accused of taking part in Moore’s beating claim he lied about the incident and overstated his injuries. Moore was supposed to be at the downstate prison for one night on his way from Coxsackie prison to a New York City court hearing. He suffers from claustrophobia and acknowledged to investigators that he became agitated when he and other inmates being transported through the Downstate facility were told they’d be held in isolation cells intended for mentally ill prisoners.

A medical examiner from Onondaga County who examined Moore’s hospital records testified in a disciplinary hearing two years ago that the injuries were consistent with a beating, including the use of a weapon like a baton and kicks to the ribs.

The officers’ accounts of the November 2013 assault fell apart during an internal investigation that relied heavily on the testimony of inmate witnesses. Investigators noted those inmates were separated in the prison yet still gave similar versions of what they saw unfold. The case was briefly explored by the Dutchess County district attorney’s office, which empaneled a grand jury last June but did not take any action, courts records show. The case was later picked up by the U.S. attorney’s office.

A spokesman for the department of corrections said the agency would not comment because of the federal investigation and “protections afforded to personnel actions.”

At least three of the officers involved in Moore’s beating have been accused of taking part in, or lying about, prior incidents involving inmate abuse. Scott, the female sergeant, and Morris, one of the correction officers implicated in Moore’s beating, were both punished in September 2013 after being found guilty of lying to internal affairs investigators about an incident in which an inmate’s head was rammed through a glass door at a law library at Downstate Correctional Facility.

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