Video of ‘Fight Night’ at Rikers Jail Leads Judge to Find Cruel and Unusual Punishment

New York judge orderedPretrial inmate in New York City’s Rikers Jail was ordered to be released after the judge found that the “credible witness” and the overwhelming support video evidence showed the prisoner’s incontestable testimony of pervasive violence, squalid conditions and indifference by jailers. This violated New York’s Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment.

In court papers, the plaintiff was identified as “Relator G”, and was held at Rikers in anticipation of his trial for felony burglary. The plaintiff claims that he was detained in Rikers for over 11 days without access to a bed or mattress. Other inmates attacked him repeatedly and ate only one or two meals per day. When he finally was moved to real housing, he was ordered by the cell block’s gang leader to attend a “fight-night” as correctional officers watched. 

April A. Newbauer of the New York Acting Supreme Court found that Relator G’s Habeas Corpus petition, supported by video of short-staffed correctional officers giving control over cell blocks to gang leader, exceeded expectations.

Newbauer’s December 22 letter stated that Relator G was the victim of “glaringly obvious management” and also suffered from violence-prone detainees. She added that she had not received adequate nutrition, exercise or health services.

The latest of many scathing reports and opinions on New York City’s ongoing crisis at its notorious island prison is this ruling. Sixteen people are currently in prison They have all died in New York City’s jail complex this year—the most since 2013.

A New York state senator A man tried to take his own life while visiting Rikers, September 2009. The jail was toured by a public defender Submitted The InterceptOne segregated intake unit had inmates locked up in tiny showers, and they were given small plastic bags for defecating.

A federal monitor recorded widespread security breaches, failed attempts to assist inmates trying suicide, in plain sight of the officers. There was also a guard rotation that worked double- and triple shifts during a U.S. District Court judge’s September hearing. Inmate-on–inmate violence and guard-on-guard attacks have increased, as has the use of force.

Monitor: “This dangerous state has reached a level where both staff and detainees face a clear risk of severe harm on a daily basis. Which in turn leads to high levels of fear within both groups. Each accuses the other of exacerbating difficult situations.” SubmittedIn a letter to Laura T. Swain, U.S. District Judge on August 24, Turmoil is the natural outcome of volatile situations.”

For Relator G, this turmoil allegedly involved gang leaders—not the correctional officers—controlling food, water, phones, and recreation time.

Relator G said that the cell block leader made him fight with other prisoners inside the cell, while the rest cheered. As a reward, he allegedly got cigarettes and additional food. 

“Relator G testified—and video surveillance corroborates—that after the first two fights, a female [correctional officer]Newbauer expressed her opinions that she approached the leader and asked him to calm down. One CO also observed several fights while elevated in the second tier. No correction officer attempted to stop the fighting.”

Newbauer stated that the video showed correctional officers trying to get inmates to go out to have recreation, but were stopped by an officer on the cell block.

Newbauer discovered that Relator G’s documented claims “not just corroborated general monitor’s findings in NunezThey gave them an individual human face, however.”

So I did in The January issue There is a reasonNew York City is considering closing Rikers permanently in 2027. However, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel or unusual punishments. It also provides food, shelter and medical care to those incarcerated. New York City should close Rikers’ jail if they are unable to force Rikers into meeting this minimum standard of human decency, and keep it up until that date.