Video released showing 'fight night' at NYC jail that led to detainee's release
The surveillance video reveals a department struggling to maintain control
By Sarah Sinning
NEW YORK — Late last month, a Manhattan judge ordered the release of a Rikers Island detainee because the city Correction Department failed to prevent appalling conditions and violence. Now, The New York Times has obtained surveillance video of two of the incidents leading to that decision – an October 19 "fight night" and an attempted stabbing in August.
At least one correction officer is seen on video failing to intervene in the October incident, while a lone female officer in the other attack struggles to keep inmates at bay with pepper spray.
According to The Times, the fight was organized by a leader of the Trinitarios gang, who occasionally made men battle for his own entertainment. The man released from custody in December, identified in court records as Relator G., is one of the men forced into combat on October 19.
In his court testimony, Relator G. said correction officers had essentially ceded control of the unit to the gang leader known as Bacalao, who allegedly also determined who could live there, eat or even use the phones.
While department policy requires gangs to be split up among housing units, The Times reports that managers began grouping members of individual gangs together in an attempt to cut down on violence between rivals. Rather than tamping down the violence, however, attacks continued to rise as the new practice created environments where gangs could band together to exert control.
And the department's ongoing staffing crisis only made things worse: On the day of the fight, 1,467 staff members were out sick, with another 31 just failing to show up, The Times reports.
The next portion of The Times video shows an earlier incident involving Relator G. According to an interview he gave to the news outlet, he was placed in a housing unit in August that housed dozens of members of the Crips gang. As a former member, he knew this put him at increased risk of violence, which he says he explained to officers.
The video shows that on August 10, inmates prepared for the assault by smearing butter over the lens of the surveillance camera. They then attempted to assault him, one with a sharp object seen in the video as the altercation spills out into a small side room.
A lone corrections officer keeps the attack from escalating as inmates continue to throw items at the pair; after about two minutes, an officer in the control room opens the gate to release them to safety.
In a statement, a DOC spokeswoman said, “We take any claims of unsafe conditions in our facilities very seriously. We remain fully committed to creating a safer and more humane environment in our jails.”