City to pay $2 million to mom in Rikers beating death

June 8, 2012 12:01:39 PM PDT
New York City has agreed to pay $2 million to the mother of a young man who was killed at the Rikers Island jail by a cartel of fellow inmates who sometimes acted as enforcers for corrupt prison guards, the family said Friday.

Christopher Robinson, 18, was jailed for a minor parole violation in 2008, when he was fatally beaten by a group of inmates in a detention unit for teenage prisoners.

Prosecutors later said the attack was the work of a gang of youths who had been enlisted by guards to help maintain rigid control over the unit. The intimidation campaign, nicknamed The Program, didn't stop at enforcing typical jailhouse rules. Prosecutors said the crew robbed fellow inmates of commissary chits and phone privileges and even decided who was allowed to use chairs in a common room.

Two corrections officers, Michael McKie and Khalid Nelson, pleaded guilty to assault and attempted assault in connection with the case. McKie was sentenced to two years in jail, an amount roughly equal to the time he already spent in jail awaiting trial. Nelson got a year. Neither was implicated of any direct involvement in Robinson's death. Two inmates are serving sentences of 10 and 12 years in the killing.

A spokeswoman for the city's legal department didn't immediately comment.

"It just hurts every day, and it doesn't get any better, and this will not help," Robinson's mother, Charnel, said Friday at a news conference.

She said her son was putting his life back together when he was jailed for breaking a probation curfew to work late at a new job.

"When he left this world, I was extremely proud of him," she said. "He made a mistake. He paid for it, and I expected him to come home."

The settlement came just days after a different group of 11 current and former inmates filed a federal lawsuit claiming similar abuses throughout the city's massive jail system.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, alleged that the city's jails were plagued by an entrenched "pattern of brutality" under which guards routinely use savage force on inmates suspected of breaking rules.

Department of Correction officials have denied that any brutality pattern exists and that guards like McKie and Nelson are rare exceptions. Over the years, however, the city has paid large sums to settle several suits arguing that guards turn a blind eye to beatings. At least one other guard in the same Rikers housing unit was sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement in the rogue disciplinary system.

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