Judge Urges Firing for Officers Who Dragged, Hog Tied & Brutalized Mentally Ill Inmate at Rikers Island
An administrative law judge in New York has taken the extraordinary step of recommending that six corrections officers at Rikers Island prison be fired for dragging, hog-tying and brutalizing a mentally ill African-American inmate.
On April 3, 2012, officers moved Robert Hinton, who was living in isolation in Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates, to a new cell. Officers punched and struck him after he was moved and then falsely reported what had occurred. They engaged in a conspiracy to cover up their violence.
Tynia D. Richard, who works in the New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, issued a ruling on September 25 on the role officers played in attacking Hinton and what consequences the officers should face for their actions.
“This case appears to combine some of the worst aspects of the use of force cases: a coordinated effort to enter an inmate’s cell, serious physical injury, an attempted cover-up, and a lack of provocation by the inmate,” Richard writes in her decision. “Moreover, the detachment of the officers involved before, during, and after the assault, as depicted in the video, is striking evidence that such violence is acceptable to them.
“This conduct and attitude cannot be tolerated in a Department whose mission it is to provide care, custody and control. Individuals who themselves are out of control cannot be made the overlords of any group of inmates.”
Captain Budnarine Bahari and corrections officers, Geronimo Almanzar and Vincent Siederman, were all found to have used “unnecessary, impermissible and excessive force against an inmate.” Correction officers Paul Bunton, Raul Marquez and Ramon Cabrera were all found to have “observed and failed to report such force.”
Hinton’s medical records show he suffered “multiple blunt trauma to the face.” His injuries included a “closed nasal bone fracture,” with his nose “broken and tilted to the right.” There was “swelling and bleeding from the nose,” a “laceration to his left eye with peri-orbital swelling and edema.” He had “cuts and swelling of the upper and lower lips and bleeding from the mouth.” He also suffered a “fracture of the L3 transverse process in his lower back, c-spine tenderness and a closed head injury.”
Hinton did not want to walk to the unit where he was being moved, but regulations state that “under no circumstances will an inmate be dragged during an escort.” Officers are to get a gurney to carry inmates to their cells. But the officers instead carried Hinton in a dehumanizing hogtying manner to his new unit.
The officers suspended Hilton and “tightly clasped” his arms and legs behind him. His attorney characterized this as carrying Hinton “like a pig on a stick.”
Officers insisted it was unfair to accuse them of hog-tying Hilton, which is force that is explicitly prohibited. According to the judge, “Hinton not only had his hands tied together behind his back and his feet tied together, but also his feet were elevated behind his back and near his hands so that his body was in a backbend.”
Hinton maintains in his account of what happened that Behari said to him, “You are gonna get what you deserve today; you think you run this shit.” He chose to resist the move when Behari said, “We are gonna fuck you up today. I don’t give a fuck what you talking about.” He sat down on the floor and chose not to cooperate because he “knew what they were going to try to do.”
From the ruling:
…Hinton said they “dragged” him into the cell, threw him on the bed, and started punching and kicking him (Pet. Ex. 24). He said the captain called him a “fucking pussy.” He was never uncuffed or unshackled. He identified the participants as Captain Behari, Officers Almanzar, Bunton, and Siederman, and a short “Spanish” officer whose name he did not know. (Officer Marquez is 5 feet 3 inches tall.
Hinton was thrown onto the bed, face down, on his stomach (Pet. Ex. 24). He turned himself around and saw Siederman hit his first, in the face. He turned back around to cover his face from the blows but Officer Almanzar “put [him] in a chokehold from behind” and kept his head up. They were repeatedly punching him. At some point, he could not breathe from the chokehold and he blacked out. He believes he was unconscious for a time and he awoke “fighting to breathe.” He couldn’t fight back because he was cuffed and shackled. Hinton felt as though he was “fighting for his life,” because when he awoke he could not see out of his eye or breathe and did not know where he was (Pet. Ex. 24). He could hear Captain Lodge and some officers trying to revive him. He recalled an officer pumping his chest to help him breathe. Eventually he was put on a stretcher and taken to the mini-clinic where he collapsed because he could not stand or breathe. The doctors took him to the main clinic and from there he was taken to the hospital…
One thing he did remember is that inmates were shouting, “They’re killing him.” On the top tier, inmates could see what was happening. And he recalled Behari saying, “I’ll fucking kill you. You think you’re fucking tough. You and this other Hinton.” After it was over, Behari said to him in the hallway, “Yeah, I did this to you. I did this to you, motherfucker.”
Inmates were interviewed and one inmate, Concepcion, told the judge that Bahari had said, “Yeah, I fucked his ass up, go look at him,” and other officers wished they had a “piece of that.”
Staff involved were “joyful” at what they were doing when standing around his cell as he was being beaten to a pulp. This appears to have greatly disturbed the judge.
Bahari greatly exaggerated or outright lied about getting kicked and injured in the groin by Hinton. He also claimed to have a limp after Hinton attacked him. However, video shows that he walked with a kind of limp before the incident.
The brutality should be incredibly shocking, but, sadly, it is known that this is a regular occurrence at Rikers Island. A four-month investigation by the New York Times uncovered a regular pattern of prison officers at Rikers Island committing brutal attacks against inmates. It also found the vast majority of inmates who are attacked are like Hinton—mentally ill and in handcuffs when abused by officers.
According to the study reviewed by the Times, “Over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered ‘serious injuries’—ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat—in altercations with correction department staff members.”
For this brutality, there is usually no accountability. No officers have been criminally prosecuted for using this kind of force against prisoners.
“None have been brought up on formal administrative charges in connection to the cases so far either,” the Times had also reported.
Now, there is at least one rare example of administrative accountability; a chance outbreak of something bearing some resemblance to justice.
“I am convinced of the primacy of the deterrence principle in this instance, in hopes that imposing the most severe sanction would deter future misconduct by those who would participate in or stand idly by when such brazen misconduct occurs. Hopefully, it will help break the vice grip that silence and collusion played in this incident,” Richard concludes.
“The Department has lost all confidence that respondents are committed to the most fundamental responsibilities of a member of service. For the reasons set forth herein, I recommend termination of employment for all respondents.”
But will there be additional consequences?
Hinton filed a civil lawsuit in 2013 against the officers and the City of New York and is seeking monetary damages. That lawsuit had been stayed pending the determination of the court but may now proceed.