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$1.2 Million to Settle with Rikers Island Rape Victims

by Derek Gilna

In May 2017, the City of New York agreed to pay $1.2 million to two female prisoners to resolve claims of rape and sexual assault by a male guard at the city’s Rose M. Singer facility on Rikers Island. Rikers, one of the nation’s largest jail complexes, which houses almost 10,000 prisoners, has been the subject of repeated investigations for corruption, violence, excessive force, poor medical care and security-related violations.

Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had previously criticized Rikers for its “Lord of the Flies”-like setting, and the complaint filed by the female prisoners cited a “pervasive culture of rape and other sexual abuse.”

According to a statement issued by New York’s legal department, “The city is committed to protecting inmates entrusted to its care from sexual abuse and has implemented numerous reforms in this regard. We have reached a settlement in principle that is in the best interest of the city.”

The unexpected settlement agreement just before trial left Rikers guard Benny Santiago as the only remaining defendant. His attorney, Liam Castro, expressed surprise, stating, “We frankly didn’t expect for the city to bail on us at the eve of trial.”

Both prisoners accused Santiago of raping them multiple times while they were held at Rikers. One of the women said the jailer had sexually assaulted her “as many as four times a week,” and tried to intimidate her into compliance by threatening her family members.

The other plaintiff claimed Santiago had threatened to place her in solitary if she reported his abuse, and accused city investigators of destroying evidence and covering up the guard’s wrongdoing. Her pretrial brief noted, “Of course, rape and sexual abuse (and providing drugs to inmates) are crimes. Yet, by conducting a sham investigation and omitting, misrepresenting, or refusing to turn over material evidence that supported [her] allegations that those crimes took place, [investigators] ensured that [they] lacked sufficient information to pursue any action against Santiago.”

A separate settlement was reached with Santiago for an undisclosed amount; he was not criminally charged, and reportedly still works at Rikers but has no contact with prisoners.

Federal judge Alvin K. Hellerstein had previously denied class-action status in the lawsuit brought by the two prisoners, who were identified as Jane Doe 1 and Doe 2. They were represented by the Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. See: Doe v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:15-cv-03849-AKH. 


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