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Rikers Island corrections officer forced to work dangerous post despite injury, lawsuit claims

The CO said he injured his knee during a struggle with an inmate; upon his return to work, his supervisor assigned him a dangerous task, despite restrictions on detainee contact

Otis Bantum Correctional Center

The Otis Bantum Correctional Center (OBCC), a 1,700-bed facility that was closed in June 2022. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

Luiz C. Ribeiro/TNS

By John Annese
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A Rikers Island guard says the city Department of Correction forced him to work a post where he was in contact with violent detainees despite a serious knee injury — then got hit with unfounded disciplinary charges when he filed a complaint.

In a federal lawsuit filed last month, City Correction Officer Ronald Reid says he injured his knee during a 2020 struggle with a detainee and when he returned to work, a supervisor ignored his medical status and gave him a dangerous assignment even though he wasn’t supposed to have contact with detainees.

Reid wound up re-injured after another fight with detainees, tearing ligament and cartilage, and needed more surgery.

“He came back. He wanted to work. He didn’t want to sit at home. But because he came back, he’s now more damaged. Now he’s worse off,” said his lawyer, Jacqueline McMickens.

The attorney herself is a former correction officer who made history in the 1980s as the city’s first Black woman appointed correction commissioner.

“You can’t guarantee that inmates won’t do what inmates do. But you can guarantee that an officer doesn’t get hurt by making sure that they have no contact,” McMickens said. “There’s a rule for that. That rule was violated.”

Reid had just three years’ experience under his belt and was assigned to The Tombs in Manhattan on July 31, 2020 when he was first injured, according to the suit.

He and six other correction officers were ordered to remove an inmate from his cell, but the detainee didn’t want to come out, throwing water on the floor and a mop at the officers, the suit alleges.

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Reid slipped on the water and wiped out, hurting his right knee, hip and shoulder in the process, he alleges. He ultimately needed knee surgery and was placed on limited duty after the injury, meaning he wasn’t supposed to have contact with other inmates.

Reid says he was still on that limited duty status in March 2022, when he was assigned to the Otis Bantum Correctional Center on Rikers Island.

He told his supervisor, Captain Akilah Biggs, he wasn’t supposed to be in contact with detainees, but she still assigned him to a post where he had to deal with them despite his protests, the suit alleges.

During a March 16, 2022 shift, he was required let a number of detainees into a pantry to get water but they wouldn’t leave, leading to a struggle, he said. One of them slammed a door on his good knee. Despite his complaints of pain, Reid was sent to check on the detainees again and told to let them into the pantry. He slipped on milk and water on the floor and injured his lower back, he alleged.

The injuries were severe enough for him to seek medical attention, requiring surgery, but he was sent back to that same post a month later, threatened with discipline and made to work a 16-hour shift, he said.

He filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint and two months later, he was hit with internal charges, accused of falsifying the dates on forms from two doctor’s appointments in 2021.

Those charges were dismissed last year, after an administrative judge ruled that the department’s investigators didn’t do a complete job looking into whether the forms were legit. Reid is accusing the department of bringing the charges and of repeatedly putting him on posts where he has contact with detainees even after he was hurt the second time, as a form of retaliation.

A Correction Department spokesperson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Reid’s injuries came during a staffing crisis on Rikers Island that saw hundreds of officers abuse the Correction Department’s sick leave policy in 2021 and 2022, calling out of work but not staying home as required.

“I understand that they were desperate, but you have to be prudent in terms of exposure you give to staff … You can’t staff it with somebody who can’t staff,” McMickens said. “Just follow the rules. The people that put that in place were wise.”

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