Lawsuit: Rikers correction officers wrongfully arrested visitors bringing books to inmates
Five New Yorkers said they were falsely arrested earlier this year after COs accused them of soaking the books they brought in with a liquid form of the drug K2
New York Daily News
Officials are using every trick in the book to keep drugs out of Rikers Island — including banning books, according to a new lawsuit.
The censorship is so entrenched that correction officers have been arresting visitors who bring books to detainees, accusing the visitors of soaking the pages with synthetic marijuana, the lawsuit said.
Five New Yorkers said they were falsely arrested earlier this year after correction officers accused them of soaking the books they brought in with a liquid form of the drug K2.
Rikers visitor Cynthia Neat said she was trying to bring a Koran to a friend in March when she was accused of drug smuggling and tossed in a holding cell before she was arraigned and released.
According to the lawsuit, Neat, 54, was refused food and use of a toilet, and had to watch as an inmate dropped his pants and peed on the floor while another threw up four times from drug withdrawal.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. No one deserves this,” she said. “I never in my life want to experience that again. When I got home all I wanted to do was take showers. I just don’t trust the law anymore. Every time I think about that day, I just get so frustrated.”
Neat, who lives in the Upper West Side, was charged with five counts of drug possession and smuggling. The charges were dismissed 13 days later. But she was banned from Rikers for six months anyway, and her friend was barred from contact visits for six months. She was also suspended from her job for three weeks.
The lawsuit claims correction officers “embarked on a campaign” of arresting visitors who brought books to people detained in the city jails. The lawsuit seeks class action status claiming there may be dozens of other people similarly arrested for bringing in books.
“We know there are others out there,” said their lawyer Julia P. Kuan of Romano and Kuan PLLC. “It’s outrageous and unconstitutional that the Department of Correction would target innocent visitors to Rikers Island and falsely arrest and prosecute them simply because they brought a book to jail.”
Each of the five visitors was arrested and held for hours, then charged with felonies, which were later all dismissed, Kuan said. And even after the charges were dropped, they were banned from later visiting inmates. The detainees they were trying to see were also barred from contact visits, Kuan said.
Kathy Camacho, 44, went to Rikers Sept. 2, 2018 to see her son, 25. She was carrying two packages with her, including a book of crossword puzzles. She twice went through the metal detector and was sniffed by dogs without incident, she said.
As soon as she went to get her packages, two correction officers shouted that she was trying to smuggle K2 into the jail. They claimed K2 liquid had been placed on the pages of the book.
The officers put her in a room for hours and ignored her denials that the books contained K2, according to the lawsuit. She was arrested, held over night in a cell in the Bronx, the lawsuit said. She was charged with five counts of drug possession and smuggling.
Tests showed the books contained no drug, and the charges were dismissed a month later, but Camacho was still banned for visiting the jails for a year. And her son was prohibited from contact visits for six months, according to court papers.
“It was embarrassing. It was scary. I have never been in the system,” Camacho said. “I said how can I have K2. I had been seeing my son for two years and I had already been searched that day. I couldn’t even see my son for a whole year. I had to arrange for cousins and family members to go see him.”
Justine Rodriguez, a mom with a 4-year-old son, was visiting a friend Feb. 20 and brought a book to read while she endured the endless waits on the island. She was searched twice and sniffed by dogs without incident and then arrested on the same smuggling charges, according to the lawsuit. She had to wait until April 4 for the charges to be dismissed. But she was barred from visiting Rikers for six months, and her incarcerated friend was also barred from contact visits from anyone including his mother.
Derick Mason brought a book on Feb. 20 for a friend detained on Rikers. The books pages were damp from wet winter weather, the lawsuit said. A dog sniffed him without incident. He was taken to a room, searched again and then arrested for allegedly bringing in K2 soaked into the pages of the book.
The charges were dismissed on April and he was still banned from the jails for six months. He missed two days of work and lost his bartending job, according to the lawyer. He remained unemployed for months.
Nicole Fludd tried to visit her boyfriend on Feb. 28. She had an old book with her to give to him. She was searched twice and arrested, even though no contraband was found. The allegation was that she, too, had brought in K2 soaked into the pages of the book. The charges were dismissed March 19. But she lost a day of work and was barred from visiting for six months. Her boyfriend was barred from contact visits.
The lawsuit specifically names nine correction officers and mentions as many as 30 other potential defendants. It does not identify a dollar amount, but seeks punitive and compensatory damages.
“We will review the complaint,” Law Department spokesman Christian Madrid said.