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Female Prisoner Wore Wire to Take Down Rikers Island Guards, Wins $425,000 Settlement

by Rick Anderson

A female prisoner in New York who wore a wire to help bust three Rikers Island jailers who sexually abused her has received a $425,000 settlement from the city. 

The trio of guards – David Johnson, Steven Santiago and Nana Osei – reportedly abused prisoner Kelly Spinelli from September 2015 through December 2016; they were each required to pay $750 as part of the settlement, which was announced on October 7, 2018. 

A spokesman for the NYC Department of Correction said the guards are no longer allowed to have contact with prisoners and the agency is seeking to fire Santiago and Osei.

In court documents, Spinelli said she was abused at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island, where it’s “common knowledge” that rape and sexual assault has long been perpetrated by male guards.

Spinelli, who is serving a six-year sentence at the Taconic Correctional Facility for her role in a deadly botched robbery, is scheduled to be released in 2020. 

A source said the city had sent a legal notice to the victim’s family about the settlement, meaning she may have to forfeit some of the money. Such notices are routine practice by the city’s Law Department, the New York Daily News reported.

Spinelli alleged in her lawsuit, filed in federal court, that Santiago forced her to touch herself while he watched on multiple occasions. He also allowed her into the central command room known as “the bubble” and made her view pornography on his phone and masturbate, she alleged.

In November 2015, Johnson demanded she “show” him what she did for Santiago, according to the lawsuit.

Four months later, the city’s Department of Investigation got involved. An investigator who was already aware of Santiago’s sexual abuse asked Spinelli to wear a wire. 

In April 2016, Spinelli recorded Santiago telling her not to let anyone know about what happened between them, according to her suit. She was contacted by the Bronx district attorney’s office, which was investigating Santiago’s abuse of “several other women” at the jail.

Spinelli “was concerned for her safety, as she was still an inmate at Rikers Island and did not receive any type of protection,” she noted in her complaint.

Those concerns were warranted. In September 2016, Osei started walking by and telling Spinelli “she was pretty and that he liked her.” Days later he woke her up at 3:30 a.m. and forced her to have sex with him in a broom closet. The sexual assaults occurred at least three more times, and on at least two occasions Osei gave her small cereal boxes containing marijuana, suboxone and tobacco.

Santiago, Johnson and Osei denied the allegations in the lawsuit, and none of them has been criminally charged. The city’s Law Department said it was in New York’s best interest to simply settle Spinelli’s suit – which was one of several alleging sexual abuse of prisoners at Rikers Island. See: Spinelli v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:17-cv-07680-JPO. 

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Additional sources: New York Daily News, correctionsone.com, gothamist.com

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Related legal case

Spinelli v. City of New York


 

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