New York Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Over Alleged Rikers Island Beating

The City of New York has agreed to pay an $850,000 settlement on a lawsuit that claimed corrections officers at its Rikers Island prison condoned the beating of prisoners by other inmates.

According to a New York Times report, this is just the latest in a series of series of settlements the city has agreed to pay in connection with something called The Program, in which some prisoners were shown preferential treatment at Rikers Island and dictated through physical force to establish a hierarchy among the inmates. The Program determined who would be able to use telephones available to inmates, who would get seating in the facility’s day rooms, and how cigarettes were distributed.

The Program was designed to “keep order by assaulting and threatening other prisoners,” according to the report and some of those beatings led to serious injuries suffered by inmates at Rikers Island. In agreeing to pay this settlement, the City admits no wrongdoing. In this case, a then 18-year-old inmate was severely beaten and injured while he was housed in a wing dedicated to teenage prisoners. In 2010, Kadeem John allegedly refused to follow an order given by another inmate, one who presumably had rank within the Program. Soon afterward, John was subjected to a severe beating in which he suffered a lacerated kidney and brain injury. Corrections officers at Rikers failed to intervene in the melee. The lawsuit filed against the city said guards at this and other jails run by New York essentially condoned this inmate behavior because they repeatedly failed to step in when a prisoner was being beaten.

An attorney representing John told The Times that this case is just one of several in which the City has failed to correct the problem at its jail and that the Program is likely continuing despite New York being forced into paying out large sums to keep lawsuits out of courts.

In fact, the City has allegedly been active in trying to destroy video evidence that shows John’s beating and purportedly showed a prison guard taking no action to intervene in the incident. Even a judge’s order to turn over evidence the prison had on this incident and others resulted in nothing from attorneys representing New York in the case. Two months ago, federal District Court Judge Robert P. Patterson told lawyers for the city that he was no longer giving their side time to turn over evidence it may have had related to the case.

The City contends its guards are not complicit in allowing this brutality within its prison system but previous cases, in addition to John’s, tell another tale, perhaps. Another lawsuit seeking class-action status is still pending and would be open to any inmate, current or former, who was subjected to violence committed by another prisoner as part of the Program.

In June, the City agreed to a $2 million settlement on another lawsuit that alleged a prison was killed during a beating that was carried out by a so-called “enforcer” in the Program. Another lawsuit – not directly related to the discipline-based hierarchy Program – was settled for $1.5 million in which a prisoner was beaten to death by guards while he was being detained at the prison wing of Bellevue Hospital.

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