Union: Correction officer has fractured spine after Rikers attack

RIKERS ISLAND (WABC) -- A correction officer is hospitalized with a fractured spine after gang members attacked him at Rikers Island.

The correction officers' union says the attack happened at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the George Motchan Detention Center.

The union says an inmate punched the Jean Souffrant, 39, and then three other gang members started kicking him after he fell to the ground. Souffrant lost consciousness.

Right now, Officer Souffrant cannot move, and is in ICU with a fractured C2 vertebrae and bleeding on the brain.

"It's hard for me to talk about it. I haven't talked about it until this morning. It should have never happened," said the victim's cousin, Guy Souffrant.

Surveillance video obtained by Eyewitness News shows the first inmate, Steven Espinal, rushing towards the officer and punching him, and the others joining in the attack. Espinal was already in hail on attempted murder charges. Officials say this was not the first time the correction officer crossed paths with Espinal.

The inmates who allegedly attacked Souffrant are all 19 and 20 years old and are members of the same gang.

"I always told him you have to look for something else. I don't like that job for you," said Officer Souffrant's mother, Rena Victor.

The union calls this one of the worst attacks on a correction officer. The officer's brother says he is being treated in surgical ICU.

A family member believes the attack may have been retaliation for an inmate who had been written up by the officer for something several days earlier.

The union released photos of four of the six inmates it said were involved in the attack, and said that the inmate on the left, Steven Espinal, threw the first punch.

The Department of Correction says it is investigating the incident.

DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann released a statement:

"What happened to our brother last night at the hands of a violent group of cowardly inmates was sickening. They'll be held accountable for this crime, but right now our thoughts and concerns are with our hospitalized officer and his family. They need us now more than ever and we will be here for them."

A similar attack happened at Rikers in November. A Captain was also punched and knocked to the ground - like Saturday, more inmates then joined in.

Critics are pointing the finger at Mayor Bill de Blasio. In 2016, the city ended punitive segregation for inmates 21 years old and younger. Under that punishment, these inmates would have lost all privileges and would have been removed from the general population.

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