Correction Officers Accused of Letting Inmates Run Rikers Island Jail

By JOHN ELIGON, The New York Times
January 22, 2009
Posted at, including more legal details.
Guards reputedly sent inmates to intimidate, threaten and silence uncooperative prisoners with brute force. Inmates were ordered to turn over money, and their every move, including when they could use the bathroom, was controlled. If word of an assault got out, the guards would allegedly orchestrate a cover-up.

In fact, prosecutors said, a unit for teenagers on Rikers Island was run much like an organized-crime family — and two correction officers were the bosses.

Those accusations were made on Thursday in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, where three Rikers Island correction officers were charged in connection with the ring, whose crimes, prosecutors said, reached a climax with the beating death of an 18-year-old inmate.

Two of the officers, Michael McKie, 31, and Khalid Nelson, 34, were charged with enterprise corruption and accused of being the masterminds behind the operation, ordering the time, location and manner of some beatings, said Robert T. Johnson, the Bronx district attorney.

Both Officer McKie, 31, of Brooklyn, and Officer Nelson, 34. of Staten Island, pleaded not guilty before Justice Steven Barrett, who ordered each held in $200,000 bail. Each faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

In court on Thursday, an assistant district attorney, James Goward, told Justice Barrett that the defendants were “not simply the author of a crime or the author of a series of crimes, but the architect of a criminal enterprise.”

“They didn’t simply turn a blind eye to violence,” he added. “They authorized and directed it.”

Mr. Johnson said the officers’ motive was simple: to make their jobs easier by making the inmates maintain order among themselves.

Neither officer was charged in the Oct. 18, 2008, death of the 18-year-old inmate, Christopher Robinson.

Officer McKie was on vacation when Mr. Robinson was killed, according to Joey Jackson, his lawyer. Officer Nelson was working that day, prosecutors said.

Mr. Jackson said that Officer McKie was a husband and father of two who spent two years at the University of Buffalo on a basketball scholarship.

The lawyer added that the officer had an exemplary record in his five years as a correction officer.

“My client would have no motivation whatsoever to engage in this behavior,” he said, adding that the prosecution’s case was “predicated upon inmates who now, in an effort to save themselves, are pointing fingers.”

Renée C. Hill, Officer Nelson’s lawyer, said her client “denies the charges adamantly.”

The third correction officer who was indicted, Denise Albright, 43, of Manhattan, was not present when Mr. Robinson was killed, according to Mr. Jackson, who also represents her. She was charged with several crimes, including assault and conspiracy, and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Officer Albright pleaded not guilty and was held Thursday in $50,000 bail. Twelve inmates were also indicted in connection with the criminal ring and were expected to be arraigned Friday.

Three of them, Joseph Hutchinson, Anquant Bryant and Shaddon Beswick, all 18, were charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of Mr. Robinson.

Outside the courtroom, Mr. Robinson’s mother, Charnel Robinson, held up a photo of her and her son embracing. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I have to live the rest of my life without ever getting to hug him again, because some officers didn’t do their jobs correctly,” she said.

Ms. Robinson has filed a notice of claim, the first step toward a lawsuit, requesting $20 million from the city and the Department of Correction, claiming that they were responsible for her son’s death.

Following Mr. Robinson’s death, the Bronx district attorney’s office and the city’s Department of Investigation launched an inquiry that uncovered what prosecutors said was a criminal enterprise known as “the Program.”

It was confined to the Robert N. Davoren Center, a jail at Rikers for inmates ages 16 to 19, prosecutors said.

Officers McKie and Nelson delegated the duty of maintaining order in the jail to chosen inmates, according to the indictment, and instructed them to exert authority over others by making them give up some of their commissary money and phone privileges.

The participants also prevented other inmates from using certain chairs in a common room and restricted other inmates’ access to that room and the bathroom, the indictment said.

Inmates who did not comply with the Program’s rules were assaulted, the indictment said, with Officers McKie and Nelson enabling the violence by letting some inmates out of their cells when they were supposed to be confined.

The indictment said that the two officers instructed the inmates to strike their victims only in the body, to avoid leaving any facial marks that might attract attention. Signals were used to alert inmates to abort assaults when other guards were in the area.

Officers McKie and Nelson covered up their actions by filing false reports about assaults and instructing the inmates to lie about them if questioned, the indictment said.

Martin F. Horn, the city’s correction commissioner, said that the conduct the officers were accused of was isolated and that the department had taken measures, including installing additional cameras, to ensure the safety of inmates in the aftermath of Mr. Robinson’s death.

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3 Comments for “Correction Officers Accused of Letting Inmates Run Rikers Island Jail”

  1. RobThomas

    Not surprising. Anyone who knows someone under 30 who works in corrections has seen this mentality. They talk about gangs in a tone which reveals them rooting for certain gangs. I don’ t know if it’s because the corrections departments are too desperate for guards, or what. But reform is needed. It’s a mess. Something has to be done to remind jailers that they’re jailers again, and how serious their role is to society. They can’t just look at it as a good paying job where they can hang out with gangsters they knew in high school. Measures need to be taken to discourage this. But it’s hard to do that when the system is only concerned with locking more people up.

  2. Crossed upon your website, great reading buddy!

  3. 5th street

    yo shorty

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