National News

15 Rikers Inmates Charged in Attack on Correction Captain

Posted December 14, 2017 8:36 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — Fifteen inmates on Rikers Island have been indicted on charges that they planned and carried out an attack on a correction captain on Thanksgiving as payback for his use of pepper spray to break up a previous fight.

The Bronx district attorney, Darcel Clark, said the assault illuminated how gang members attempt to control the city’s jails through intimidation and violence.

“This was an orchestrated, retaliatory attack on the captain for doing his job,” she said Thursday as she announced the indictments. “Gang members don’t run the jails. They may think they do. But in the end the rule of law will prevail.”

The attack had its roots in a tense confrontation three weeks earlier, authorities said. On Nov. 2, Capt. Awais Ghauri had used pepper spray to break up a brawl in the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, one of several jails in the Rikers complex. Jason Reid, 33, is a member of the Bloods and threatened to “cut” the captain in retaliation, prosecutors say.

On Thanksgiving, Reid gathered more than a dozen inmates in a circle just after noon in a housing wing of the jail, holding a meeting to plan an ambush, Clark said.

Ninety minutes later, Reid jumped Ghauri as he patrolled the same area with two other captains, a surveillance video shows. Reid struck Ghauri from behind, knocked him to the floor, pinned him and punched him repeatedly, the recording shows. Beyond bruises, the captain suffered a 7-inch cut on his neck.

A dozen other inmates helped to block correction officers from coming to Ghauri’s aid. Some stole a canister of pepper spray from an officer and tried to steal a canister from a second officer, prosecutors said.

When Ghauri gained the upper hand over Reid, two other inmates are accused of joining in the assault.

Reid and 14 other inmates, most of them described as Bloods, have been charged with first-degree robbery, attempted gang assault, assault and riot, among other charges, in a 19-count indictment. They face a 25-year sentence if convicted on the top robbery count. All of them pleaded not guilty at initial court appearances this week.

Prosecutors said all of the inmates have been charged with the assault on the captain and with the robbery of the spray under the legal theory that they planned the attack and were acting in concert, Clark said. A 16th inmate, who prosecutors say disposed of a can of chemical spray, was charged with tampering with evidence.

Video of the assault showed that the two captains who were with Ghauri — Ricardo Reimers and Keith Phillip — retreated as soon as the attack began instead of trying to aid their colleague. They have been suspended pending a departmental investigation, officials said. The president of the Correction Captains’ Association, Patrick Ferraiuolo, has questioned their courage.

The city has ended solitary confinement for prisoners under the age of 22 and greatly reduced its use for other inmates, relying instead on rehabilitative programs. Union leaders representing correction officers have complained that those changes took away important tools used to keep violent inmates in line.

Nodding to those concerns, Clark said the city Board of Correction and Department of Correction should “find a way to implement severe consequences for inmates who repeatedly assault other inmates and correction officers.” She did not offer details of what those measures should be. “They cannot continue to brutalize with impunity,” she said.

Natalie Grybauskas, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the city would not return to the days when 600 to 700 people were in solitary confinement at Rikers. That number has fallen 85 percent since 2013, she said. She noted it was still used to punish inmates like Reid who are older than 22 and who attack officers.

“We have no plans to move backward,” Grybauskas said. “It’s clear that more solitary doesn’t translate into less violence, and can hurt people instead of helping them.”