A dozen women have come forward with claims they were sexually molested by female correction officers during visits to New York City jails after a woman's tearful interview with the I-Team being strip searched at Rikers Island.
The complaints are wide-ranging; the women report they were illegally strip-searched or subjected to body cavity searches at various facilities on Rikers Island, as well as at the Manhattan Detention Center and the Brooklyn House of Detention.
The Department of Investigation, the city's watchdog organization, says it is now looking into the claims.
In a group interview, 11 women shared their stories of what they call degradation and humiliation.
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"It goes way beyond an invasive search," said Kristie McNally.
New York City Department of Correction guidelines prohibit strip searches or body cavity searches of visitors. Limited pat frisks are allowed over outer clothing, but only after written consent and with a supervisor present.
Tamara Blackwood told the I-Team she was ordered to strip naked by an officer.
"She took the rubber gloves she had on, and went front ways toward my private area, told me to cough and slid her hand up." She added, "I didn’t consent to being cavity searched and fondled."
Several of the women describe being required to squat and cough while undressed.
"She took her hand and swiped it in my private area, opened me up, fondled me around my breast area," Latoya Redcross said. "I’m naked. I have no shirt on, no bra on, all I have is my pants and my panties down to my ankles."
She added, "She went under me is if she was a doctor, under me with her face and told me to cough and watched me contract."
The women had never spoken to each other before the group interview. Several said they had decided to come forward after seeing a November I-Team interview with Jeannette Reynoso, who tearfully recounted her allegations of molestation be two officers on Rikers.
Jasmine Quattlebaum said she had worried about speaking out for fear of retaliation.
"People are scared to say anything about it because they don’t want anything to happen to their loved ones in prison," she said. "I was a little skeptical about that but I realized something has to stop."
Attorney Alan Figman has filed more than a dozen claims on behalf of women against New York City.
"You know how wrong it is, because 60 to 75 percent of the people I have spoken to wound up hysterically crying as the result of the search," he said.
The Commissioner of Corrections, Joseph Ponte, told the I-team in an interview: "It would concern me if we had one [complaint]. So, yes, it concerns me that we have 12."
Ponte would not discuss specific cases for legal reasons, but said the Department has doubled the number of investigators to look into staff integrity issues.
"If anything is close to what’s being stated, that’s one incident way too many, and we’ll be as aggressive resolving the one as we will in resolving the 12," he said.
Another woman, Lillian Rivera, called the searchers "malicious."
"They did it with malicious intent and they are going to keep doing it until all of us ladies get together and stop it because we will stop it," she said.
Many of the women told the I-Team they believe they were targeted because of issues between the inmate they were visiting and officers or supervisors.
DOI told the I-Team investigators wants to hear from anyone who believes they’ve been illegally strip-searched during a visit to a jail.
The phone number for complaints is 212-835-5959. You can also file a complaint on their website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.