NEW YORK (AP) — An administrative law judge on Monday recommended that six New York City jail guards be fired for the brutal 2012 beating of a handcuffed Rikers Island inmate in a now-shuttered solitary confinement dorm for mentally ill prisoners.
The beating left 27-year-old Robert Hinton with a broken nose, fractured back and a bloodied, badly swollen face.
The recommendation in the Department of Correction's disciplinary case against the five correction officers and a captain was meant to serve as an example and deter other jail workers "who would participate in or stand idly by when such brazen misconduct occurs," Judge Tynia Richard said.
"Individuals who themselves are out of control cannot be made the overlords of any group of inmates," the judge wrote.
The Department of Correction said Hinton was beaten after being carried hogtied into a cell for refusing to be escorted and that to justify the use of force, the guards fabricated a story that Hinton put one of them in a chokehold.
The recommendation comes in the wake of months of headline-grabbing tales of guard misconduct and the maltreatment of inmates in the nation's second-largest jail system, detailed by The Associated Press and other news organizations.
The AP reported in March, based on an internal city health study, that nearly a third of Rikers inmates who said their visible injuries came at the hands of a correction officer last year had suffered a blow to the head.
And last month, a federal review of Rikers Island by government lawyers found a "deep-seated" culture of violence in the 10-facility jail complex on the 400-acre island off Manhattan's shores.
But the recommendation also provides a small window into the world of internal discipline in the Department of Correction.
In the past 4 ½ years, the department brought 2,007 administrative cases before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, according to records obtained by the AP via a public records request. Of those, only 97 resulted in a written report and recommendation. Most cases were settled in exchange for the forfeiture of vacation days and unpaid suspensions, while the details of the incident and names of those involved remain secret.
In Hinton's case, surveillance video showed the 6-foot-3 man carried into his cell by Capt. Budnarine Behari and other guards, shackled by his hands and feet and lifted off the ground, the judge wrote.
The guards involved said Hinton — described by the judge as a Bloods gang member with an attempted murder conviction — kicked Behari twice and put another correction officer in a headlock, resulting in a struggle that led to his injuries.
Hinton's version of events, combined with inmate witnesses and surveillance video outside the cell was more believable, Richard wrote, ultimately determining he had remained handcuffed as the guards, some wearing gloves, beat him while an officer calmly stood outside the cell.
"This case appears to combine some of the worst aspects of the use of force cases: a coordinated effort to enter an inmate's cell, serious physical injury, an attempted cover-up, and a lack of provocation by the inmate," Richard wrote.
Hinton is suing the city in federal court.
Behari's attorney, James Frankie, said the judge's recommendation was "very disappointing."
Norman Seabrook, head of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, said he would ask Commissioner Joseph Ponte to spare the five officers termination. He said the case, while unfortunate, was reflective of a department that lacked sufficient supervisory staff where unqualified captains are promoted.
Surveillance video didn't capture what occurred inside the cell, only in the corridor outside. Department of Correction lawyers have denied the AP's public records request for the footage, as well as the AP's appeal of the denial, arguing in part that the footage was a personnel record and exempt from public disclosure.
But the video was played publicly during Behari's hearing this spring before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and inmate advocate Hadley Fitzgerald, who watched the video, said it was disturbing how eerily calm the guards appeared in the footage.
"I remember it hit me like a brick," she said, noting that about 10 minutes passed before Hinton was brought out of the cell, limp, and placed face-down on a gurney and rushed to a hospital. "You can only imagine what's happening in there. A man who is cuffed, and without weapons, is now in there with all these guys ... It's just very disturbing."