Rikers Guards Beat Mentally Ill Inmates With Impunity

Times discovers that 129 were injured over 11 months
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 14, 2014 2:16 PM CDT
Rikers Guards Beat Mentally Ill Inmates With Impunity
This June 20, 2014, aerial photo shows Riker's Island jail in New York.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Guards at Rikers Island don't just neglect the mentally ill or let them bake to death, they also routinely brutally beat them, often without suffering any repercussions, a New York Times investigation has discovered. The Times uncovered a secret report compiled by a city department this year that found that 129 Rikers inmates suffered "serious injuries" in altercations with staff members over an 11-month span last year; 77% of those inmates had a mental health diagnosis. In most cases, the inmates were beaten while handcuffed.

The Times investigated the incidents individually, and offer some disturbing details:

  • When guards found Jose Bautista trying to hang himself, they saved him, but then allegedly threw him to the ground and punched him with such force that they perforated his bowel. It was one of five beatings noted in the report that followed a suicide attempt. Bautista needed emergency surgery, but guards took nine hours to drive him to the hospital—which is only 15 minutes away.
  • When Andre Lane threw water or urine at guards, they allegedly handcuffed him to a gurney, wheeled him to a clinic that wasn't monitored by security cameras, and beat him so violently that the walls and cabinets were covered with his blood.
  • After Brian Mack complained that guards were stealing inmates' food, a guard captain allegedly hit him in the eye with his radio, while another officer punched him in the jaw. He came away with a broken eye socket and jaw. Correction officials said he'd been in a fight with another inmate, but investigators noted no such fight was logged in prison records.
None of the guards involved in any of the cases have faced criminal charges—or even administrative ones. Rikers has been under pressure to reform its treatment of mentally ill inmates—in January, for example, it announced it would stop putting the "seriously mentally ill" in solitary, though the Times notes that classification applies to a small segment of the population. Last week an oversight board said the newly-appointed city jail commissioner had in June illegally sent as many as 47 mentally ill Rikers inmates to solitary without consulting clinicians, the AP reports. (More Rikers Island stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.