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New York City Pays $2 Million to Settle Suit Over Death of Juvenile Killed by Other Prisoners Acting as Guards’ Enforcers
Christopher Robinson, 18, was killed in October 2008 by a gang of prisoners who were acting as enforcers for Rikers guards. [See: PLN, Feb. 2010, p.28; Jan. 2009, p.20]. The guards used enforcers as part of an intimidation campaign known as “the Program” to maintain rigid control over the juvenile unit. Numerous prisoners were assaulted and severely injured by other prisoners as part of the Program, while guards condoned and covered up the attacks.
The guards enlisted gang members to enforce the rules and run the unit; those who resisted the gang or violated unit rules were regularly beaten. The enforcers decided who had phone privileges and who could use chairs in the common room. They also robbed other prisoners of their commissary items and clothes. According to the Bronx District Attorney, the jail was an “incubator for violent criminal activity sanctioned by adults in positions of authority.”
Robinson was in RNDC on a minor parole violation for breaking curfew to work late at a new job. His mother, Charnel Robinson, said her son was putting his life together while incarcerated.
“When he left this world, I was extremely proud of him,” she stated. “He made a mistake. He paid for it, and I expected him to come home.”
While the June 14, 2012 settlement agreement specified that the City of New York did not admit fault or liability, Charnel said she thought it was an acknowledgment that things went horribly wrong. Still, the settlement did not assuage her pain. “It just hurts every day, and it doesn’t get any better, and this will not help,” she remarked.
“This involved a very tragic situation,” said attorney Muriel Goode Trufant, who represented Robinson’s mother in the lawsuit. See: Robinson v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:09-cv-7446-LTS.
Two Rikers guards, Michael McKie and Khalid Nelson, pleaded guilty to assault and attempted assault in connection with the Program. On January 17, 2012, McKie was sentenced to two years in jail and Nelson received one year as part of plea agreements. Neither was directly implicated in Robinson’s death. Two juvenile offenders who took part in killing Robinson are now serving 10- and 12-year sentences.
“I’m not happy. It’s not a win for me. My son is gone,” said Charnel Robinson. “At the end of the day, these people are still able to see their families. My only child is a sight I’ll never see again.”
Jail officials claimed they had made improvements at RNDC. “The list of actions we have taken both prior to and since Robinson[‘s death] includes plenty of steps the department has taken to address violence, including, specifically, in adolescent housing units,” said Department of Correction spokesman Stephen Morello.
However, city officials later investigated whether staff at RNDC had covered up high levels of violence involving juvenile offenders. RNDC officials received an award in May 2011 based on a 62% drop in the number of fights at the facility. But when RNDC warden Williams Clemons was replaced, incoming warden Raino Hills found that numerous assaults and two use of force incidents had not been reported.
“The record has been amended to reflect these two incidents, and the culpable staff disciplined,” said Department of Correction spokeswoman Sharman Stein.
Further, on July 31, 2012, former RNDC prisoner Dwaine Taylor filed a lawsuit in which he claimed the Program continued to operate at the facility until late 2011. Taylor said he experienced two beatings from gang members acting as enforcers in the Program. Guards encouraged him not to report the first assault in May 2011, which left him with a broken jaw; after he insisted, he was later placed back into general population at RNDC, where he was again beaten in November 2011 and again suffered a broken jaw. Taylor’s lawsuit remains pending. See: Taylor v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:12-cv-05881-RPP.
Additional sources: www.timesunion.com, New York Times, Village Voice, www.corspecops.com, New York Daily News, New York Post
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Related legal cases
Robinson v. City of New York
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:09-cv-7446-LTS|
Taylor v. City of New York
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:12-cv-05881-RPP|