Suit: City allowed Rikers officers to rape and sexually abuse inmates

Story highlights

  • A class action details reports of serial rape and sexual abuse by corrections officers at the all-female Rose M. Singer Center
  • The suit names corrections officer Benny Santiago as an alleged rapist of two unnamed women.
  • Santiago allegedly told his other victim that he had "observed her family from his parked car," implicitly threatening her, the suit says

New York (CNN)Two women are suing a corrections officer at Rikers Island and the city of New York, claiming that they were raped repeatedly by the officer with the complacency and consent of the city.

The explosive class action filed on Tuesday in federal court details reports of serial rape and sexual abuse by eight corrections officers at the all-female Rose M. Singer Center in the New York City jail complex, including a case where an inmate was dragged into a janitor's closet and another where the inmate became pregnant.
One of the plaintiffs, identified in the complaint as only Jane Doe 2, reported the rapes to a mental health clinician and later to a doctor with the City Department of Investigation, the suit says, but was told nothing could be done.
    "This abuse is only possible because, in the face of repeated warnings, the City of New York has enabled a culture of complacency to perpetuate at Rikers Island and thereby consented to the abuse of women in its custody," the suit says.
    The suit names the corrections officer, Benny Santiago, as the alleged rapist of the two unnamed women.
    According to the suit, Santiago's actions were "open and notorious," though other officers in the center failed to report him.
    When one of his alleged victims was believed to have reported her rape, Santiago released other inmates from their cells who then crowded the victim's cell, yelling at her for "snitching," court papers say.
    Santiago allegedly told his other victim that he had "observed her family from his parked car," implicitly threatening her family in order to coerce her into submitting to the abuse, the suit says.
    A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said the office does not comment on pending litigation but added that "DOC has a zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual abuse and assault, and there is no place at DOC for the mistreatment of any inmate."
    CNN could not locate Santiago for comment and questions left with the city's corrections officer union were unanswered. He is currently on modified duty, a position where he does not interact with inmates, according to the Department of Corrections.
    The plaintiffs, represented by the Legal Aid Society, seek damages from Santiago as well as an overhaul of Department of Corrections policy in order to break what they call a "culture of systemic rape."
    Santiago abused the two women in unrestricted areas that were not monitored by security cameras and would wait until after center captains had made their supervisory rounds, which were made at the same time every day, the complaint says.
    A 2012 Department of Justice survey named the Rose M. Singer Center among the 12 high-rate facilities nationally for cases of sexual misconduct against inmates by staff. According to the survey, which was cited in Tuesday's suit, 5.9% of inmates at the center said they were sexually victimized by facility staff.
    "Sexual violence is at record proportions in DOC, and rape and other sexual abuse of women are endemic at the Rose M. Singer Center," said Seymour W. James, the attorney-in-chief of The Legal Aid Society.
    In a statement, a spokesman for the New York City Law Department said "the allegations would be reviewed once we are served with the lawsuit."
    The suit filed on Tuesday comes months after federal prosecutors in New York joined a civil rights lawsuit against the city for the use of excessive force on inmates by corrections officers at Rikers.
    Announcing the suit in December, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said "much more needs to be done to safeguard the Constitutional rights of inmates at Rikers and to ensure that it is a safe and secure environment not just for the inmates but for the staff also."
    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month a plan to tackle city court delays and in turn reduce the population at the jail, the city's main point of incarceration.
    Despite efforts to clean up the facility, this week's lawsuit is only the latest in a string of recent scandals to underscore the dysfunction.
    In January, a New York City Department of Investigation report found that more than a third of corrections officers at Rikers were hired despite glaring past demerits, "including multiple prior arrests and convictions, prior associations with gang members, or relationships with inmates."
    And last week, an employee with the facility's contracted health care provider, was arrested after allegedly trying to smuggle synthetic marijuana and other contraband into Rikers, according to NYPD Sgt. Lee Jones.