Six female correction officers were indicted Monday for allegedly illegally strip-searching women visiting the Manhattan Detention Complex and falsifying paperwork to cover it up, officials said.
Former Correction Department Capt. Leslie-Ann Absalom, 53, and Officers Daphne Farmer, 49, Jennifer George, 32, Lisette Rodriguez, 51, Alifa Waiters, 45, and Latoya Shuford, 36, were charged with official misconduct, unlawful imprisonment and conspiracy, various counts of offering a false instrument for filing, and one count of criminal possession of a forged instrument, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. and city Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said in a statement.
Sources told the Daily News on Sunday that authorities alleged that at least one guard molested a woman during a strip search at the Tombs and the captain and other supervisors covered it up.
“There is no excuse for violating the human rights of New Yorkers visiting our city’s jails,” Vance said. “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.”
Citing court documents and statements made in court, the district attorney’s office said the officers were assigned to the Manhattan Detention Center visiting area, where they checked for items not allowed in jail. The Correction Department has an official procedure for conducting “pat frisk” searches of visitors suspected of carrying contraband, which requires written consent of visitors before a search. Minus consent, the visitor may leave, or officers may offer a “noncontact booth visit” or deny a visit.[More New York] Cops seek men in string of Bronx ebike robberies »
Instead, the officers routinely strip-searched female visitors, including forcing visitors to remove their pants and underwear, touching visitors’ breasts, and examining their private parts, the DA’s office said.
In order to justify their unlawful searches, George, Rodriguez, Waiters and Absalom filed false paperwork with the Correction Department and the Manhattan DA’s office, leading to the arrest of three visitors whose charges were based on illegal searches, according to the DA’s office.
“Stopping contraband before it enters the city’s jails is of paramount importance, but it cannot be done at the expense of visitors’ dignity, the law and the Correction Department’s rules,” said Garnett. “Working with the Manhattan district attorney, [the Department of Investigation] exposed the criminal conduct that led to improper, invasive searches by city correction officers, who then tried to cover up their misconduct by falsifying records, according to the indictment.”
“Protecting the rights of visitors to the city’s jails does not impede the ability to control the flow of contraband,” Garnett added. “Per [the Correction Department’s] directive on visit procedures, strip searches and body cavity searches of visitors are not permitted.”
In October 2015, the Daily News reported on a lawsuit filed by Dana Grottano, then 27, who accused a female correction officer at Rikers Island of groping her and forcing her to remove her clothes in front of her young daughter when she was visiting her boyfriend in jail. The lawsuit said she was ordered to pull down her pants and the officer touched her private parts. “I was humiliated,” Grottano told The News at the time.
Months earlier, Nimra Butt sued the department, saying she was illegally forced to strip without cause during three separate visits from December 2014 to March 2015.[More New York] NYPD transit officers nab man wanted for Miami Beach mutilation murder »
A source with knowledge of Correction Department procedures told The News on Monday that pat frisks, only permissible with signed consent forms, must be conducted in the presence of the visits supervisor. Pat frisks do not require that an individual remove any clothing except for outerwear, and the department mandates that a same-gender supervisor oversee all consensual searches.
Cameras have been installed in the search area of each visit facility to ensure that all consensual searches are properly done, the source said.
Complaints can be filed with the Board of Correction, which oversees the Correction Department. The number should be posted in visitor areas.[More New York] Trial begins in 2018 machete murder of Bronx teen Lesandro ‘Junior’ Guzman-Feliz »
“People visiting loved ones in our city’s jails should feel safe, period,” Deputy Correction Commissioner for Public Information Peter Thorne said. “If these allegations are proven true, the officers involved face termination. They have already been suspended.”
Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, on Monday defended officers who work jail visiting areas for their “diligent professionalism.”
“Manhattan Detention Center correction officers assigned to the visit area arrested more than 50 visitors last year alone for attempting to smuggle in heroin, marijuana, cocaine, K2 synthetic, razors, scalpels and other contraband,” Husamudeen said in a statement. “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.”