Seven correction officers at Rikers Island raped and sexually abused female inmates over a two-year period, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Legal Aid Society.
Two of the female inmates were in pre-trial custody, and they allege they were "repeatedly raped and sexually abused" by an officer who warned they would be punished if they resisted or reported him, the lawsuit said.
Legal Aid Society attorney William Gibney said there is credible evidence to back up the inmates' claims, including clothing from one woman that contained DNA material from an officer proving a sex act took place. In another case, he said, an inmate became pregnant.
“We are seeking an injunction requiring the city and the Department of Correction to take all necessary steps to prevent women in their custody from being raped and sexually abused by correction officers,” Gibney said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Correction said in a statement: "We do not comment on pending litigation. Speaking generally, DOC has a zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual abuse and assault, and there is no place at DOC for the mistreatment of any inmate."
The lawsuit specifically named one officer, who has since been placed on modified duty, according to a DOC official. Officers on modified duty do not interact with jail inmates.
A spokesman for the Correction Officers Union did not immediately respond to questions about the allegations contained in the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, the women alleged numerous sex attacks took place inside the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers, which houses female inmates. The incidents allegedly took place in 2013 and 2014, and some were reported immediately after they happened, Gibney said.
In one case, a female inmate alleges she became pregnant from one of the alleged rapes. In another case, an inmate alleges an officer molested her in front of other officers and was terminated only after he was arrested for smuggling marijuana into the facility.
The rapes allegedly took place in an inmate's cell or the "officers’ station," the complaint alleges.
Despite rape allegations and complaints to the office of Inspector General, several officers still work at the facility, Gibney said. One woman who complained was assigned to "punitive segregation" and some inmates were allegedly paid to beat up any woman who complained of a sexual assault.
The women were only identified as Jane Doe 1 and 2 in the lawsuit due to the alleged abuse. Several other inmates have also provided statements to Legal Aid and filed complaints with the inspector general.
In addition to punitive damages, the lawsuit says the system for reporting officer on inmate abuse is "grossly inadequate" and needs to change.
Last month, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James proposed new rules that would amount to a zero-tolerance on sexual assault in the 11,000-inmate system, citing federal statistics showing that two Rikers lockups have some of the nation's highest rates of reported attacks.
A 2013 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey found 5.9 percent of Rikers inmates housed at the all-female Rose M. Singer Center said they were assaulted by staff compared to a national average of 1.8 percent for all jails. An additional 5.6 percent of inmates at a second Rikers facility alleged staff sexual misconduct, the survey shows.
Another 5 percent of women in the Rose M. Singer Center said they were victimized by another inmate, compared to a national average of 1.6 percent, the survey found.
City officials said at the time they would review James' proposed rule changes but added they've already begun efforts to make sure city jails are compliant with PREA standards, such as training jail health workers on how to properly handle reports of sexual abuse.