NYC Fined for Flouting Prison Abuse Discovery


MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge slapped New York City with a $10,000 penalty for withholding demanded evidence pertaining to the alleged assault of a teenage inmate at the juvenile prison on Rikers Island.

Kadeem John is described in his civil rights complaint as "the teenage victim of a perverse and pervasive practice, sanctioned at the highest levels of the New York City Department of Correction (the 'Department' or 'DOC'), in which corrections officers at a New York City jail engage inmates or allow them to assault other inmates as a way to control and discipline those held in custody.

"This practice, known commonly as 'the Program,' has been uncovered and substantiated by investigations of the New York City Department of Investigation and the DOC's Inspector General, leading to the indictments of a number of correction officers, and the conviction of at least one correction officer, who worked in Robert N. Davoren Complex ('RNDC'), the principal City jail for adolescent males," the complaint states.

Inmate-on-inmate violence has reportedly resulted in the death of at least one RNDC prisoner.

Articles and editorials decrying "The Program" have appeared in The New York Times and Village Voice.

John says he was 18 at the time of his Rikers attack, which left him with brain, kidney and spleen injuries, as well as short-term memory loss, blurry vision, bloody urine and headaches.

The August 2011 complaint seeks punitive damages from the city and about a dozen prison officials for alleged violations of the constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, among other things.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson Jr. said he has lost his patience with the city's pretrial foot-dragging.

"Defendants in the matter have repeatedly failed to adhere to this court's orders mandating production of documents responsive to plaintiff's document requests served on defendants in November of 2011," Patterson wrote. "For the reasons stated herein, the court will impose sanctions on defendants for repeatedly failing to comply with this court's discovery orders."

Lawyers for the city claimed that they fulfilled their obligations by sharing 5,600 documents from the Gang Intelligence Unit detailing inmate-on-inmate assaults at RNDC, personnel files of 17 officers assigned to John's unit and the "disciplinary history" of 32 others.

John's lawyers replied that the city had inundated them in a "document dump" of "5,000 undifferentiated pages," while still withholding entire categories of other requested files.

The judge told city attorneys that they could not measure their discovery obligations by volume.

"The court is well aware that defendants have produced voluminous amounts of discovery," the 16-page order states. "It is not defendants' counsel's role, however, to determine the sufficiency of discovery for plaintiff's counsel."

Failure to turn over documents likely scuttled attempts to reach a settlement by the June 27 deadline, Patterson added.

Meanwhile, the New York City Law Department insists that it complied with judge's orders.

"We take our discovery obligations very seriously, and as we advised the court, we made good faith efforts to comply with the orders in this case," the department told Courthouse News in an email.

If city lawyers do not complete first-stage discovery to the judge's satisfaction by July 20, they will face additional penalties of $1,000 for each day they are late.

Source: Courthouse News Service