Five officers convicted of beating inmate at NYC’s Rikers Island prison
A jury in state Supreme Court found former Assistant Chief for Security Eliseo Perez and four officers under him guilty on all counts on Tuesday, including the most serious charge of first-degree gang assault.
Perez had ordered the four corrections officers – Tobias Parker, Jose Parra, Alfred Rivera and David Rodriguez – to beat inmate Jahmal Lightfoot after he stared down Perez during a June 2012 search of his cell.
A sixth guard, Jeffrey Richard, who was not accused of direct involvement in the beating, Jeffrey Richard, was acquitted of charges related to an attempted cover-up of the June 2012 incident. Four other guards on chose to have separate trials, and are still awaiting a verdict.
Prosecutors said that the incident began when officers were searching the cells of inmates for any prohibited items. They said that during the search, Lightfoot stared down Perez, who subsequently shouted to the other officers that he should be beaten.
"Somebody's leaving in an ambulance tonight," Perez told inmates before the beating, according to prosecutors.
Guards took Lightfoot to a small cell and battered him so severely that he ended up with a broken eye socket and nose, according to prosecutors.
Defense lawyers claimed that Lightfoot was found with a piece of sharpened metal during the search and refused to drop it, and that Lightfoot was injured while being forcibly restrained.
Perez was retired from his position in 2013, and the other four officers were placed on modified duty, officials said.
A sixth guard, Jeffrey Richard, who was not accused of direct involvement in the beating, Jeffrey Richard, was acquitted of charges related to an attempted cover-up of the June 2012 incident.
The five convicted officers are set to be sentenced in September, facing up to 15 years in prison for the gang assault count alone. Corrections officers that are convicted of felonies are automatically terminated under state law.
“We have zero tolerance for any illegal behavior on the part of staff, and the officers found guilty of felonies will be terminated,” said Joseph Ponte, New York’s corrections commissioner. “The vast majority of our officers carry out their duties with care and integrity, and we are taking many steps to ensure that all staff adhere to the highest professionalism.”
Norman Seabrook, president of the city’s Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said the verdict is a “travesty,” claiming that the legal system treats corrections officers differently from the general public.
The Rikers Island, which lies between Queens and mainland Bronx, is one of the nation’s largest prisons, holding over 11,000 inmates. The jail complex has come under increased scrutiny in recent years due to a slew of inmate deaths and allegations of corruption.
The City of New York has implemented reforms in the prison that include installing more cameras and reducing the use of solitary confinement, and a federal monitoring team was assigned to ensure progress.