2 correction officers speak out about recent Rikers attacks

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Danielle Leigh reports on two New York City correction officers speaking out about recent Rikers attacks.

Two New York City correction officers injured during assaults by Rikers inmates last week spoke out about the attacks for the first time, while the Bronx District Attorney announced new charges against four inmates involved in a separate gang beating of another correction officer, Officer Jean Souffrant, in mid-February.

The developments follow two days of outrage expressed by the Correction Officer's Benevolent Association over the recent uptick in assaults on officers.

The two officers injured last week spoke from the COBA headquarters in Queens Tuesday morning, and while they showed their faces, they asked that their names be withheld out of fear for their safety.

"Here we are again," said COBA President Elias Husamudeen, standing in the same room where he made an emotional plea to Mayor Bill de Blasio Sunday evening to increase penalties for violent inmates after a fourth correction officer had been injured in just over a month.

Related: Mayor addresses uptick in Rikers inmates assaulting correction officers

The officer attacked Saturday, March 17, had been on the job just under a year, according to COBA.

"This inmate was throwing bottles at me. He took my attention, and my colleague's attention, while immediately from my blind side, hot water was thrown in my face, and I covered my face and I was hit," said the correction officer, who suffered a broken nose and burns. "When I recovered I realized I was bleeding, a lot of blood everywhere. That's how I ended up with these injuries on my face. Burn, a black eye, burns on my left shoulder, right arm."

Standing by the correction officer's side was another officer COBA said had just under two years on the job, who was slashed in the face Tuesday, March 13, by an inmate with an unknown sharp object.

"It was very surreal. I was shocked at first, but I just used my training to defend myself but then, I finally touched my face and realized, 'Oh my God I'm bleeding. He must have, he cut me,'" the correction officer said. "It's a horrifying experience, honestly."

7 On Your Side Investigates compared the number of New York City correction officers assaulted last year to assaults on staff in Los Angeles County Jails and found assaults on officers at Rikers were 60 percent higher.

Meanwhile, even as the number of inmates in New York City dropped by 3 percent last year and the number of uniformed personnel increased by nearly 11 percent, the number of assaults on officers resulting in serious injury climbed by 34 percent.

"I believe it's part of the mayor's negligence towards our department," the correction officer who suffered a slashing wound said. "He eliminated so many things that give restrictions towards these inmates. They have no consequences."

Those aren't new complaints. Nearly two years ago, the former Department of Correction Commissioner wrote the city Board of Correction expressing concern that ending punitive segregation or solitary confinement for young adults was increasing "the rise in serious and violent incidents" at Rikers and requesting to delay implementation of the policy.

The city continued with plans to eliminate punitive segregation for inmates 21 years and under.

"We believe for anyone 21 years or younger, it's counterproductive," de Blasio said. "We believe it actually leads to more violence and more dysfunction and does not help turn around people who were hoping get on a better path."

The mayor also presented a different reason for the increase in violence on staff, even as the ratio of officers to inmates increases due to an increase in staffing and a decrease in the Rikers population.

"The inmates who are there now tend to be proportionately those from more serious crimes," he said. "Those who have in some cases done more violent crimes."

COBA disputes that theory.

"This mayor hasn't been doing anything, in my opinion, that he should do to protect us," Husamudeen said.

Husamudeen is asking for a return to punitive segregation or solitary in some cases, and the implementation of body scanners to better detect when inmates are sneaking contraband into and around Rikers. It is a move that would require, in part, state action.

While de Blasio indicated no interest in altering his position on solitary, he did admit the union has a point that the Department of Correction needs to increase penalties for violent inmates.

"Where I think we can do better is finding other kinds of punishments. This is one area where I think the union has raised some very valid concerns," de Blasio said. "It is something we will get done through the Board of Corrections."

The Department of Corrections has also promised to spend $4.5 million improving safety at Rikers.

Among other things, it has promised to increase the number of specially trained emergency response patrols, increase the number of officers armed with Tasers, and increase communication with the NYPD to intercept violence, all by the end of June.

While these injured officers say assuming risk is part of the job, they add there's no reason to accept unnecessary violence on the job.

"You just, I think of, 'What's going to happen to me today?'" the correction officer who received the slashing wound said.

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