On Thursday around 4:30 PM, Rikers Island guard Raymond Calderon was opening a cell in the New York City jail complex when he was attacked from behind, placed in a chokehold and knocked to the ground, the New York Times reports. Two other inmates then allegedly began what is being called an "unprovoked" attack on the officer, slashing him with a sharp object to "within an inch of his life," as Norman Seabrook, President of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association (COBA), put it.
Calderon, who has been an employee of Rikers for three years, was taken to New York Hospital Queens in serious but stable condition where he received over 20 stitches according to the Daily News. He was released from the hospital the same night.
Inmates Darnell Green and William Whitfield are both teenagers—19 and 18 respectively. They are rumored to have gang ties, and are said to be members of the Bloods. Green is being held on homicide and robbery charges and has also allegedly been involved in two previous incidents with guards. Whitfield, meanwhile, is behind bars over attempted homicide and weapons charges in Brooklyn. The two were arraigned after the beating in the Bronx Friday morning and did not enter pleas during their appearance. They were ordered held on $500,000 bail on assault and other charges stemming from the attack.
Two other inmates, 19-year-old Joseph Ordonez and 18-year-old Dave Johnson, were awaiting arraignment Friday their own roles in the attack. As a result of the incident, the DOC is in lockdown as officials conduct a tactical search to root out all contraband.
"I am outraged by this horrific assault," New York City Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte said in a statement. "Attacks against the hardworking men and women who serve in our department are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. I visited the officer in the hospital last night, and told him that we will do everything possible to support him and his family during this ordeal."
The attack comes just before sweeping reforms are set to take place at Rikers. Come January, teenage inmates will no longer be thrown in solitary confinement, officers will be limited in the types of physical force they'll be able to use, and thousands of additional cameras will be installed in the facility.
Advocates praise the measures being taken to help stop what the New York Times has called "the pervasive brutality" of the prison, but the men and women who work at Rikers fear they will leave jail personnel vulnerable to the type of attack CO Calderon suffered last night. They argue that the ban on solitary will be particularly ruinous, with one Rikers rep telling the New York Daily News it represents "a recipe for disaster."
"There will be a correction officer killed at the hands of an inmate because there is no penalty for what they do," Seabrook told CBS New York.
"On the eve of the release of new 'use of force' guidelines from the Department of Correction, which we were not consulted on, one of our members is laying in a hospital bleeding from multiple slash wounds to his head and face," Seabrook wrote on COBA's Facebook page, which keeps a running count of how many COs have been splashed with urine and/or feces in the last 24, 48, and 72 hours. "Our members face life and death danger every single day when they walk into work, and incidents like this are exactly why we need to be a part of these policy discussions. It is an outrage that the lives and safety of brave Correction Officers like this young man do not seem to be a priority."
The reforms approved two weeks ago by federal judge Laura Taylor Swain are a result of Rikers's record of systemic abuse and brutality against inmates, particularly teenagers. The rampant abuse savagery against detainees was documented last year in exhaustive investigations by the TImes and the Department of Justice.
While this year hasn't exactly been pretty at the facility, with 83 more staffers getting attacked than in 2014, major incidents resulting in serious harm to guards and other officials are down 15 percent, according to the Daily News.
"Safety is our top priority and we will continue to take every step to ensure the safety and security of our staff and inmates," Ponte said.
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