Inmates accused in Rikers Island correction officer attack appear in court

RIKERS ISLAND (WABC) -- Four of the inmates accused of attacking a Rikers Island correction officer appeared in court Monday, while two others have yet to make their court appearances.

The officer, 39-year-old Jean Souffrant, remains hospitalized with a fractured spine and bleeding on his brain, though he has been taken out of the intensive care unit.

A candlelight vigil was held on Rikers for Souffrant Sunday night. A fellow correction officer spoke out about what he saw immediately following the attack.

"When I walked in, the officer was laying face up in a pool of blood, and he was out," the officer said. "And what disturbed me was that no one even looked at him."

The correction officer's union says Souffrant was knocked unconscious by a sucker punch Saturday night. It happened around 6:30 p.m. in the George Motchan Detention Center.

Surveillance video obtained by Eyewitness News shows the first inmate, Steven Espinal, apparently rushing towards the officer and punching him, and the others three inmates joining in the attack. They began kicking him once he was down.

Watch the video here:
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Watch raw video showing a correction officer being attacked by inmates at Rikers Island.

Espinal was already in jail on attempted murder charges, and officials said this was not the first time he had crossed paths with Souffrant. The union said Espinal may have attacked Souffrant because the officer recently wrote him up for refusing to remove a window covering in his cell. Officials maintain Espinal planned the savage attack and referred to the officer in a recorded call, saying, "Yo, he acting like a super cop."

The six inmates who allegedly attacked Souffrant are all 19 and 20 years old and are allegedly members of the same gang. In court, Espinal was held on $500,000 bail, while 18-year-old Samson Walston, 18-year-old Nazeem Francis and 18-year-old Devin Burns were held on $300,000 bail each.

They are due back in court on Friday.

The victim's family said this all could have been avoided.

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

The correction officers' union is calling the attack one of the worst it's seen.

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

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, and 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.

Dozens of fellow officers, fearing for their safety, filled the courthouse. They are calling for the Department of Justice to step in and take over control of Rikers.

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