Rikers Island CO captain suspended after raising concerns over detainee who assaulted 32 COs in 6 months
Court records show the inmate's assault cases include slashing a CO with a pen, trying to attack an officer with a shiv and beating an officer with metal restraints
By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
NEW YORK CITY — A highly decorated New York City Correction Department captain has been suspended after raising safety concerns about the handling of a violent Rikers Island detainee, the Daily News has learned.
Capt. Awais Ghauri, a 10-year veteran, was suspended Friday, six days after sending an email challenging his bosses to come up with a security plan for a mentally ill detainee who has assaulted 32 correction officers in six months.
The paid suspension lasts until Friday, with Ghauri facing a disciplinary process after that.
Just over half of Michael Megginson’s attacks involved splashing or throwing liquid on officers; others were for punching and even biting, records obtained by The News show. Court records show his open assault cases include allegedly slashing an correction officer with a pen, trying to attack an officer with a shiv and beating an officer with metal restraints.
“To whom it may concern: Has the DOC [Department of Correction} system completely failed us?” Ghauri wrote in his email.
“How can 32 officers be assaulted by one inmate in 6 months? Who is going to take responsibility of all these assaults? Is the federal monitor aware of these unsafe crises? Please generate a plan of action moving forward and support your staff who are indeed tired, angry and frustrated.”
Ghauri sent the letter to Correction Department higher-ups in custody management and each of the three department unions. The Daily News obtained the email from sources.
Other staffers immediately chimed in with support.
But on May 30, Paul Idlett, the first vice president of the Correction Captains’ Association, threw cold water on the email.
“Please do not respond to this email chain,” he wrote. “It is becoming an insubordination situation that will put [the union] and its members at a disadvantage.”
On Friday, investigators hit Ghauri with the suspension saying he was under unspecified “confidential investigation,” records show. The “date of alleged violation” on the form is the same day he sent the email.
“The suspension happened within a few days of the email and so it appears to be retaliatory,” said Sarena Townsend, a lawyer representing Ghauri who was once the Correction Department’s head of trials and investigations.
Ghauri reached out to the captains union in March to report the situation and was told the union would talk to the commissioner, but nothing resulted from that, Townsend said.
“This is a captain who has been honored for bravery. It’s not like he blasted out the email first thing. He went to his union first, and they didn’t act. And now, he’s forced to retain an attorney. Ghauri’s email isn’t insubordination. It’s evidence that Rikers is destructive for detainees and staff alike.”
Townsend said Ghauri’s suspension was another in a monthslong series of efforts by Correction Department Commissioner Louis Molina and the Adams administration to undermine transparency and crush dissent about the conditions in the jails. The Correction Department last week confirmed the agency would no longer disclose deaths in the jails.
“The standard message now is that everybody has to stay silent,” Townsend said.
On Thursday, Mayor Adams questioned the integrity of federal monitor Steve Martin after Martin’s team released a report raising disturbing questions about five serious incidents in the past month, including two deaths and a case where a man was left paralyzed. Judge Laura Taylor Swain has ordered a special hearing based on the findings of Martin’s report for June 13.
Calls to the Correction Department and the union were not returned.
Ghauri, 36, joined the Correction Department in 2013 and was promoted just three years later to captain.
On Thanksgiving Day in 2017 he was attacked by detainee Jason Reid in a dorm at the Otis Bantum Correction Center. Dramatic video caught Reid wrestling Ghauri to the ground before the captain turned the tables, pinning Reid.
Two other inmates then rained blows on Ghauri while he fought them off. Ghauri suffered a range of bruises and cuts and a nasty 3-inch wound under his left ear.
In the aftermath, Ghauri received commendations for valor from the department and praise and awards from a range of elected officials and others.
After he returned to work, Ghauri was assigned a coveted spot in the Special Operations Division where he distinguished himself enough to transfer to a temporary assignment at the city’s Department of Investigation, a separate agency that probes misconduct.
He eventually transferred back to the Correction Department and was assigned to the North Infirmary Command and the West Facility — Rikers Island jails that house the mentally ill and the ailing along with high-profile detainees and those who have proven difficult to manage. He has often worked a regular rather than supervisory post there because of lingering Correction Department staffing shortages, his lawyer said.
The detainee who sparked Ghauri’s email, Megginson, 33, is being detained on Rikers Island for an assault arrest last year in a shelter for the mentally ill. In 2015, he was profiled as part of an in-depth New York Times story suggesting people like him don’t belong in jail but in a psychiatric hospital. The story noted he had 70 physical clashes with correction officers in 18 months.
Megginson now has three open Rikers Island assault cases, court records show. He allegedly slashed an correction officer with a pen in August, leaving her with eight stitches, tried to attack an officer with a shiv in December and beat an officer with metal restraints he had been forced to wear in January.
From Dec. 14 through May 20, Megginson has been cited 24 times for tossing unknown liquid on officers, at least seven times for striking or biting them, six times for setting fires and at least four times for damaging jail walls, according to brief summaries of the incidents obtained by The News.
The summaries contain little context but show the Correction Department response has been aggressive as well. He has been showered with pepper spray at least 17 times in that five-month periods and sustained other injuries caused when officers took him down, records show.
In one incident on May 5, 10 correction officers blasted him with pepper spray, the records show.