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MDC Brooklyn: Sex Scandal and 11 Staff Indicted for Beating Prisoners

by Matt Clarke

On April 12, 2007, eleven guards at the federal Bureau of Prison's Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York " including a captain and three lieutenants" were indicted for abusing prisoners. At the same time, another scandal at the MDC involved a staff psychologist allegedly having an extramarital affair with a prisoner.

PLN has previously reported the abuse of prisoners by guards at MDC Brooklyn. [See: PLN, Sept. 2006, p.30; June 2004, p.19; and April 2004, p.21]. Unfortunately the brutality against prisoners continues, with many of the same guards participating. A federal indictment was handed down against Captain Salvatore LoPresti, Lt. Frank Maldonado, Lt. Kelly Tassio, Lt. Elizabeth Torres, and guards Scott Rosebery, Glen Cummings, Alfred Santana, Steven Peterson and three others stemming from assaults on prisoners which occurred on November 13, 2002 and April 11, 2006.

In the 2002 assault, the indictment alleged that LoPresti felt "disrespected" when prisoner Robert George refused to remove a t-shirt he had tied around his head. LoPresti and other guards beat George until a pool of blood and clumps of his dreadlocks were left on the floor. LoPresti, Tassio, Rosebery and two other guards then attempted a cover-up by making a noose out of sheets and tying it to the window bars in George's cell, to support their claim that he had attempted suicide and became combative when LoPresti tried to intervene. Those guards, along with Santana and Peterson, submitted false reports supporting the attempted suicide scenario. Tassio eventually admitted to falsifying a report on orders from LoPresti, but later recanted her confession.

The 2006 beating began as a fight between an unnamed prisoner and a guard, and Rosebery intervened. The prisoner stopped fighting. Rosebery then beat the prisoner in his cell while Torres looked on and taunted him from the hallway. Afterwards, they took the prisoner to the Special Housing Unit, tripping him while he was being taken into an elevator.
Torres stood lookout in the hallway as Cummings repeatedly stomped the fallen prisoner in the stopped elevator. The beating was captured on videotape by a hallway surveillance camera.

LoPresti was also charged in the indictment with abusing official letters to help MDC guards obtain weapons for off-duty use, a violation of BOP regulations. He pleaded not guilty during arraignment on April 13, 2007 and was released on $250,000 bond.

"These names are not new to us," said Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Rachel Meeropol. "We are pleased that officials are finally being held accountable for a pattern of systematic physical and verbal abuse at the MDC."

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against MDC employees in April 2002 that named LoPresti, Torres and Rosebery. The suit alleged that at least five Arab and South Asian prisoners who were swept up in the reaction to the 9-11 attacks had been abused while incarcerated at MDC. The U.S. Department of Justice's inspector general issued two reports in 2003 that acknowledged a pattern of abuse at MDC, much of which was videotaped.

On October 2, 2007, Tassio and Santana pleaded guilty to charges that they participated in a cover-up of the 2002 beating, admitting they wrote false reports. "I knew there was no valid reason for going into the cell, and I assisted in the assault," Santana told the federal court. Rosebery and Peterson plead guilty to assault charges in September 2007. On October 25, 2007, a jury found LoPresti guilty of civil rights violations, obstructing justice, and making false statements.

In another scandal involving staff misconduct, a MDC psychologist was accused of a different kind of prisoner mistreatment. Magdalena Sanchez, 35, a former NYPD psychologist, worked at MDC Brooklyn from September 2005 until she resigned from her $70,000-a-year job in February 2006. She is accused of having sex with prisoner Demetrius Hill, 28, from October 2005 until February 2006, when Hill reportedly revealed the relationship in exchange for a light sentence on his armed robbery charges. Hill, who was facing up to 85 years, received a 20-year sentence. Ironically, Sanchez had previously written a letter to the federal judge over Hill's case, requesting leniency.

Sanchez, who is married to renowned Lehman Brothers equity trader Josh Spitz, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing on April 6, 2007 and was released on $100,000 bail. Her case is still pending. It is alleged that she kept Hill on suicide watch so they could have unmonitored visits. He is described by his family as a violent and manipulative person who is both charming and very intelligent; he has an extensive criminal history and is a member of the Bloods gang. In a Sept. 2007 interview Hill denied that he ever had sex with Sanchez, describing her as a "confidante, defender and more than a friend," but not a lover.

Hill stated he also had a relationship with Nassau County jail guard Cynthia Plummer, whom he said provided the car for his robbery spree. Plummer lost her job and was indicted for lying about their relationship, but the charges against her were later dropped.

Hill had filed suit against Lt. Frank Maldonado in 2006, alleging that Maldonado threatened to beat him and make it seem as if he had been attempting suicide and became combative. The threats were allegedly because Hill was filing too many grievances against MDC staff. The threatened beating scenario was similar to the incident described in the federal indictment naming Maldonado and the other MDC guards. Clearly, it is time that the bad apples in the Big Apple's MDC were tossed out.

Sources: New York Post, International Herald Tribune, New York Times, New York Public Radio, Associated Press, New York Daily News

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