The women were pushed to the wall, wrestled into submission, grabbed, and had their clothing, including their underwear, yanked from them. They were then forced to the floor or made to squat before they had their breasts touched, and their buttocks and vaginas examined.
All in the name of security at the Manhattan Detention Complex.
In five separate incidents from April through August 2018, five Department of Correction Officers and a former DOC Captain, all of them female, allegedly coerced the women, all of them visitors to the downtown jail, to submit to illegal strip searches and then conspired to cover up their actions by filing bogus paperwork with the DOC and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, according to a 27-count indictment, D.A. Cyrus R. Vance announced.
The five Correction Officers, identified in court documents as Daphne Farmer, 49; Jennifer George, 32; Lisette Rodriguez, 51; Latoya Shuford, 36; and Alifa Waiters, 45; and a former DOC Captain, Leslie-Ann Absalom, 53, were charged in State Supreme Court with official misconduct, unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy and other counts.
Captain Absalom retired in March. The five Correction Officers have all been suspended without pay. The six defendants were all assigned to the visitors area at the downtown jail.
Two of the trip searches cited in the indictments, as well as others in the city’s jail system, were detailed in a Department of Investigation report issued the same day the indictments were made public.
The DOI report identified several “troubling” aspects of officers’ practice and routine, including pat frisk searches done without consent and with “excessive physical contact” including with bare skin and with “sensitive areas.” The report noted that recently revised DOC directives and policy-procedure recommendations from DOI regarding searches in city jails have “fallen short.”
A Longtime Burden
Illegal strip searches have been a burden for the department for years. The city has paid out roughly $80 million starting in 2001 to settle claims by thousands of people who alleged they were illegally searched. This case is unusual because it involves visitors rather than searchers of those already accused of a crime. Dozens of lawsuits tied to illegal searchers are active.
“People visiting loved ones in our city’s jails should feel safe, period. If these allegations are proven true, the officers involved face termination.”DOC Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Peter Thorne said in a statement.
Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen pointed out that MDC COs arrested more than 50 visitors last year for attempting to smuggle in drugs and other contraband, including would-be weapons such as razors.
“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.
Mr. Husamudeen did not respond to a request through a spokesman for further comment on the indictments. The DOC directive on searches states that visitors to the jail cannot be strip-searched. Body-cavity searches are likewise prohibited. Visitors can be patted down, but only if they sign consent forms. Pat frisks require only the removal of outerwear, such as coats and shoes.
The directive further states that officers can conduct pat frisks when visitors are suspected of possessing contraband. Those also require written consent. Visitors 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.
Three of the women who were searched illegally were found to be concealing marijuana and other contraband and were arrested. Criminal charges were dropped in at least one of the cases after the District Attorney reviewed video of the search.
“There is no excuse for violating the human rights of New Yorkers visiting our City’s jails,” Mr. Vance said in a statement announcing the charges. “As alleged, these officers flagrantly abused their power when they ignored their training and subjected visitors to humiliating and unlawful searches. Further, they attempted to cover up their actions by forcing visitors to sign consent forms under false pretenses, and repeatedly lying in official documents.
DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett said that although preventing contraband from entering the jails is vital, “it cannot be done at the expense of visitors’ dignity, the law, and the Correction Department’s rules.”
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