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Lawsuit: Rikers Island Officer Unpunished After Raping Transgender Inmate In Corizon Health Clinic

A transgender inmate was raped by a corrections officer in a medical clinic on Rikers Island and the New York City Department of Correction has declined to punish him for the last three years, according a federal civil rights lawsuit [PDF ] filed in Manhattan this week.

The inmate, known as “MT,” is a transgender woman who was being housed at the Robert N. Davoren Complex at the time of the incident. MT claims Corrections Officer L. Galan sexually harassed her “openly and repeatedly” for months before raping her in the clinic, where security cameras could not capture the encounter. Galan’s abusive behavior was reportedly “common knowledge” among his colleagues and the inmates.

In December 2012, the lawsuit states Galan “forced himself” upon MT after threatening that they could “do this the easy way or the hard way.”

MT did not feel she could safely escape, and was forced to perform oral sex on the officer before being anally raped. Galan then gave MT $20.00 and an iPod Touch “as an enticement” to not report the assault.

MT was caught with the contraband items that Galan had given her soon after and was issued an infraction. She tried to explain to DOC officials that she had been raped and given the items to keep quiet. DOC officials allegedly investigated her claims, referring the case to the Inspector General’s office. Agents from the IG’s office then interviewed MT, who detailed her victimization by Galan. In the end, officials did not prosecute the officer.

In fact, Galan was not even disciplined for the incident and continues to work at the jail to this day. Corizon medical staff working in the clinic were not charged or punished for their failure to intervene in MT’s assault, either. Meanwhile, MT suffers “severe psychological and emotional distress and physical injuries” as a result of being raped.

The lawsuit notes that “it is a well-established practice” for jail workers to bring prisoners to the clinics to abuse or harass them because they know they won’t be caught on camera. The lawsuit also claims it was common for medical staff, working for the for-profit jail contractor Corizon Health Services, to comply with an officer’s orders to leave the clinic, even though they know an inmate was about to be assaulted.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 3.1% of inmates at the Robert N. Davoren Complex reported staff sexual victimization, compared to 1.8% of people nationally. MT’s lawsuit, in particular, is only the latest in a series of allegations that corrections officers are raping inmates on Rikers Island. In May, multiple female inmates sued seven guards for rapes that took place over a two year period. The claims also fall in line with findings from recent a federal investigation into the NYC DOC, which suspected sexual assault was underreported on the island.

The DOC has declined to speak about the claims made in the lawsuit, but let’s just hope Commissioner Ponte does better than the victim-blaming he engaged in when an inmate nearly raped a medical worker earlier this year.

Lighted signs read "SANDRA" in front of an image of Sandra Bland's face at a Light Brigade direct action on January 1, 2014. (Flickr / Light Brigading)
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.