September 9, 2021

-New York Post

A staffing crisis on Rikers Island has created a dangerous and chaotic situation for inmates that’s allowed them to assault each other, fatally overdose and post TikTok videos of themselves partying, The Post has learned.

Stunning cellphone video captured inside the beleaguered jail emerged Sunday night that shows three inmates viciously assaulting another, throwing him on a bed and beating him to a pulp as he desperately cries out in pain.

“Why the f–k are you fighting me for?” the inmate can be heard saying in the clip as the three others pummel him with blows to the head and body.

“I’m not a Brim!” he insists, an apparent reference to a subset of the Bloods street gang.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the area where the fight happened was being watched by a correctional officer, but the beatdown lasted at least 25 seconds without anyone intervening to help. On Sunday, at least 33 guarded posts across the jail were unmanned and 22 officers were on triple shifts during two different shifts, said Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains’ Association.

It’s a phenomenon that’s become increasingly commonplace amid the staffing crisis at the jail and it’s led to inmates being unsupervised for hours on end.

Just last week, a group of men at the Robert N. Davoren Complex filmed a TikTok video of themselves apparently throwing a party inside a jail cell.

The clip shows the young men puffing away on an unknown type of cigarette, drinking from bottles and dancing while rap music plays.

When Department of Correction brass caught wind of the video after it was posted online, they responded by moving the inmates to another section of the jail.

“Again, no officer on post,” a Rikers Island source griped about the incident.

“This is regular in the jails now … Cellphones, money and drugs,” they said.

On Tuesday, 24-year-old Esias Johnson was found dead inside the jail — the 10th inmate to die in the last nine months, the DOC said.

Ferraiuolo and a jailhouse source both said Johnson died of an apparent overdose, and the DOC said the area he was found in was under supervision. Ferraiuolo, who spoke with one of his members assigned to the facility, said drug paraphernalia was found close to Johnson.

“We have at least three medical emergencies a day from inmates doing drugs. I’m not sure what they’re taking but it’s definitely not marijuana. I had a medical emergency in my housing area, the inmate was hallucinating and foaming at the mouth,” said a Rikers source, adding most inmates have been dabbling with the synthetic drug K2 mixed with fentanyl. 

“He was on the floor and the inmates were throwing water on him,” the source said. “For how long is unknown.”

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association said drugs have been easily making their way into the facility because there aren’t enough officers to conduct necessary searches, resulting in higher amounts of contraband.

“Maintaining safety and security in New York City’s jails begins with maintaining proper staffing levels … the number of Correction Officers has dwindled down to less than 7,600, including the nearly 1,300 Correction Officers who have resigned since 2019 because of the horrific conditions Mayor [Bill] de Blasio’s negligence has created,” COBA president Benny Boscio Jr. told The Post, calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis” for staff and inmates alike.

“Thanks to his gross mismanagement, we are unable to conduct facility searches for weapons and drugs, inmates aren’t getting their required services, officers, nurses, doctors, and civilians are getting assaulted with impunity,” he said. “On top of that, officers are being forced to work triple and quadruple shifts without meals and rest.”

Ferraiuolo said many of the jailhouse issues stem from changes to how staff can use force on inmates and the phasing out of punitive segregation, which he said has made it difficult for them to do their jobs.

“We’re almost at a point where [solitary confinement] is almost non-existent, creating a dangerous environment for not only staff, but inmates who are really just looking to do their time on Rikers Island without any issues,” said Ferraiuolo

“You’re putting these guys back in the general population after they commit vicious attacks against correctional officers and sometimes they put them right back in the same area, which leads to the same issue,” he said.

Further compounding the problem — at least for staff, Ferraiuolo said — is the jail’s decision to house inmates affiliated with the same gangs together.

“You’re creating an environment where you think it’s safer because the inmates are not fighting with one another in those housing areas because they’re all from the same gang affiliation, but you’ve created the most dangerous environment you could possibly create for one or two correctional officers to work within that dormitory or cell block area,” the union boss said.

“The commissioner doesn’t want to acknowledge this and I know he inherited it but he needs to change it,” Ferraiuolo said.

In response, newly appointed DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi acknowledged that the agency is “deeply concerned” about the current conditions on Rikers Island.

“We are doing all that we can to address the current conditions in our facilities, to improve safety, and to encourage staff to return to work,” Schiraldi said. “We are deeply concerned about what is occurring and won’t rest until we create an environment at Rikers in which people feel safe to work and live.”

The agency noted they will be hiring 600 additional officers set to begin next month to handle the staffing drought and noted large portions of the team were out sick at the end of July but didn’t include any numbers for August or the beginning of September.