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New York City Pays $280,000 to Settle Suit after Visitor Assaulted by Jail Guards

by Ed Lyon

On May 19, 2014, Thomas Hamm went to the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City to visit his same-sex domestic partner, identified as P.F.

Hamm and P.F., who planned to get married, hugged and kissed at the start of their visit just as other couples did, then held hands above the table while visiting just as other couples were doing. Those activities were allowed according to jail policy.
However, guards castigated Hamm and P.F. for greeting each other with a hug and kiss, then prematurely terminated their visit when they began holding hands, calling them “faggots.”

When Hamm stopped at the front desk to retrieve his security pass, jailer Shaquana Gatling berated him for his sexual orientation, stating, “You’ll burn in hell” and “you people should be killed,” among other inappropriate and bigoted remarks.

Jailer Ronnie Mack, a hulking giant next to Hamm, who stood 5-foot-6-inches, dared him to hit Gatling. Hamm tried to leave but an unknown jailer grabbed him from behind, holding him while Gatling and Mack began striking his face, fracturing facial bones and causing additional head trauma.

A bleeding Hamm fell to the floor, where Gatling and Mack began to viciously kick him. Noting the blood, another jailer warned, “Don’t touch him. He might have AIDS,” while shift Captain Adolpho Flores stood by watching. After the savage assault concluded, Flores ordered Hamm taken into custody.

He was transported by ambulance to Elmhurst Hospital Center for treatment, handcuffed to a stretcher, where he was held overnight. Leaving the hospital, Hamm was taken into formal custody at Rikers, given written notice that he had been barred from visiting the jail complex for 180 days, then transferred to Bronx Central Booking where he was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree harassment against the guards who had attacked him. An arraignment judge later released Hamm on his own recognizance. The false charges were adjourned in anticipation of their eventual dismissal.

Attorneys David B. Rankin and Robert M. Quackenbush with the law firm of Rankin & Taylor, as well as Susan L. Sommer and Omar Gonzalez-Pagan with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed suit in federal court on Hamm’s behalf against New York City and Rikers Island jail guards in October 2015.

On September 10, 2018, a settlement agreement was entered into by all parties; Hamm was awarded $280,000, inclusive of attorney fees, and the city agreed to make the following statement at Rikers Island employee roll calls: “Consistent with the law, it is the policy of the Department of Correction to treat all visitors equally and with respect regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.” See: Hamm v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:15-cv-06238-JPO.

According to the New York City Department of Correction, Captain Flores retired in August 2018 while guards Mack and Gatling “remain on duty.” 


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Related legal case

Hamm v. City of New York