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BOP Settles for $4.18 Million With Six Prisoners Raped by Guard at Now-Shuttered Manhattan Federal Jail

by Casey J. Bastian

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has been under intense scrutiny from lawmakers over misconduct by guards and officials at multiple prisons. Some of the worst behavior involves sexual abuse of female prisoners. One despicable perpetrator is 45-year-old Colin Akparanta. A naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria who goes by “Akon” and “Africa,” Akparanta pleaded guilty in March 2020 to sexually abusing a female prisoner at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan. He also admitted sexually abusing six other women held there who were prepared to testify, too. [See: PLN, Sep. 2020, p.60.]

Prosecutors said Akparanta took female prisoners to “various off-camera areas” to sexually assault them. He further abused his authority by instituting dormitory lockdowns that constituted an “egregious breach” of BOP protocols. He coerced silence from his victims by “depositing money into their commissary accounts,” in addition to “gifts” of contraband. It was all outrageously blatant, yet no supervisor ever intervened.

Six of the women filed civil complaints and have now received settlements totaling $4.18 million. On September 24, 2021, BOP agreed to pay $1.18 million to three victims, who claimed the guard reached through their cell doors to grope their breasts and digitally penetrate their vaginas, forcibly putting their hands on his penis, too. For that, Sacha Santiago accepted $472,000, Darrah Kneisel accepted $354,000 and Stephanie Feliciano accepted $354,000. They were represented by attorneys Nick Brustin, Amelia Green and Kate Fetrow of Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, LLP in Manhattan. See: Santiago v. United States, USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 20-cv-6887.

On May 18, 2022, BOP agreed to pay another $3 million to three other former prisoners who said the guard abused them, too. Karilie Herrera said Akparanta not only digitally groped and penetrated her but also forced her to masturbate him. She and fellow prisoner plaintiff Franchesca Morales said he also made them have sex with each other while he watched, as well as ordering Morales to act as lookout during his assaults on other women. A third prisoner plaintiff, Carolyn Richardson, said that Akparanta insinuated himself into her life by pretending to be a preacher offering spiritual guidance before sexually assaulting her, too. BOP agreed to pay each woman $1 million to settle their claims. They were represented by attorney Jaehyun Oh with the Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Firm in Manhattan. See: Herrera v. United States, USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 1:20-cv-10206.

Meanwhile, Akparanta was sentenced in December 2020 to a 40-month federal prison term for abusive sexual contact of a prisoner, in violation of Title 18, U.S.C. § 2244(a)(4), and deprivation of the constitutional rights of a prisoner, in violation of Title 18, U.S.C. § 242. Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said the guard also smuggled contraband personal hygiene items, makeup and food to his victims. With at least one woman, she said, he “explicitly conditioned his provision of contraband on the … continued performance of sexual acts with him.” He even asked for contact information to stay in touch with the women after release.

“M.C.C. leadership and employees were on notice of Akparanta’s brazen misconduct but repeatedly turned a blind eye, allowing him to sexually abuse over a dozen victims over the span of many years” from 2012 to 2018, said Green.

“This can only be allowed to go on for so long and so frequently in that kind of controlled environment by the complicity of other people, in my opinion,” agreed Oh.

There is a bright discrepancy between the Department of Justice’s public “outrage” and Akparanta’s relatively meager sentence. Hundreds of federal prisoners convicted of far less heinous sexual crimes have received far greater sentences. Akparanta may have been a “predator in uniform,” but it is not even clear if he must register as a sex offender.

He also isn’t the first MCC guard found guilty of sexually abusing female prisoners. In 2016, Rudell L. Clark Mullings, then 54, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a prisoner and was sentenced to seven years in prison. [See: PLN, Sep. 2016, p.63.] In 2020, BOP reportedly agreed to a $365,000 settlement with a female prisoner raped by Mullings in a hallway out of security camera’s view.

“The M.C.C. has been a longstanding disgrace,” said David E. Patton, chief of the Federal Public Defenders of New York. “It’s cramped, dark and unsanitary. The building is falling apart. Chronic shortages of medical staff mean that people suffer for long periods of time when they have urgent medical issues.”

Ironically, the prison’s most recent audit under the Prison Rape Elimination Act found zero “standards not met.” That report, issued on October 1, 2021, was based on an inspection conducted the previous May. Meanwhile BOP announced in August 2021 that the prison would close “at least temporarily” to assess “steps necessary to improve conditions.” The 233 people housed there were transferred to other facilities.

Tyrone Covington, President of the local union representing MCC employees, said his group had “called for a long time to have the facility fixed and upgraded for everyone to be safe, staff and inmates alike.” He went on to add that most staffers are “caring and hardworking” and “do the best that they can, every single day, with what they have.” But Judge Colleen McMahon of the federal court for the Southern District of New York said there is “no excuse for the conditions” in the prison, which must be “run by morons.” 

Additional sources: New York Times, U.S. Department of Justice

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