Five city Department of Correction officers have been convicted of illegally strip-searching visitors to the Manhattan Detention Complex on five separate occasions in 2018 and then covering up the incidents. All received sentences of conditional discharges and will not serve time unless they re-offend within a certain time period.
A State Supreme Court jury on March 13 found all five defendants—Correction Officers Daphne Farmer, 49; Jennifer George, 33; Lisette Rodriguez, 52; and Alifa Waiters, 46; and a former DOC Captain, Leslie-Ann Absalom, 54—guilty of conspiracy in the sixth degree, the Office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.
The quintet were convicted of various other counts, including offering a false instrument for filing, official misconduct and unlawful imprisonment. All await termination, according to the DOC.
According to an indictment handed down last May, the officers on five separate occasions from April through August 2018 coerced female visitors to the downtown jail to yield to illegal strip searches and then conspired to cover up their activities by filing bogus paperwork with the DOC and the DA’s Office.
The visitors were variously pushed against the wall, wrestled into submission and grabbed. They also had their clothing, including their underwear, tugged from them. The visitors were then forced to the floor or made to squat before they had their breasts touched, and their buttocks and vaginas examined.
“Visiting an incarcerated loved one can be a difficult and stressful experience without the addition of this type of humiliating encounter. It is my hope that today’s convictions serve as a warning—regardless of whether the perpetrator is an inmate or an officer, illegal behavior in Manhattan’s jails will not be tolerated,” DA Vance said in a statement following the convictions.
Although a sixth Correction Officer, Latoya Shuford, was acquitted of all charges, she is on modified duty pending termination, the DOC said.
Ms. Absalom, who retired in March, was convicted of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, a Class E felony; two counts of official misconduct; and unlawful imprisonment in the second degree.
CO George was convicted on four counts of official misconduct; three counts of unlawful imprisonment in the second degree; six counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree; and two counts of making a punishable false written statement.
CO Waiters was convicted on three counts of official misconduct; two counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree; and two counts of unlawful imprisonment in the second degree.
CO Farmer was convicted on three counts of official misconduct and two counts of unlawful imprisonment. CO Rodriguez was convicted on four counts of official misconduct and two counts of unlawful imprisonment in the second degree.
The officers convicted of the felony charge of offering a false instrument for filing received a conditional discharge sentence of three years. Those convicted of any of the other charges, all of them misdemeanors, received a conditional discharge sentence of one year. The sentences will run concurrently.
The indictment said that, to justify the unlawful searches, the defendants filed false paperwork with DOC and the D.A.’s Office, leading to the arrest of three visitors based on illegal searches.
Illegal strip searches have long burdened the DOC, and the city has paid out tens of millions of dollars since 2001 to settle claims by thousands of people who alleged they were illegally searched.
According to the department’s directives on searches, visitors to jails can be patted down only after they sign consent forms. Pat frisks require only the removal of outerwear, such as coats and shoes.
Visitors cannot be strip-searched, and body-cavity searches are also prohibited. Those who do not consent can be denied a visit but are free to leave, although DOC officers can offer them a non-contact booth visit.
At the time of the indictment, Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen said that MDC COs had arrested more than 50 visitors in 2018 for trying to smuggle in drugs and other contraband, including would-be weapons.
“Every day they do everything they can to keep this jail safe for visitors, inmates and correction staff. They deserve more public support for the diligent professionalism they exude every day,” he said in a statement.