Women who visit inmates at New York City jails have charged in dozens of formal complaints and lawsuits that they have been subjected to demeaning and illegal strip searches, according to a report published Tuesday by WNYC radio and the online publication The Intercept.
The I-Team has been reporting on complaints of illegal strip searches at the jail since 2015.
The women say correction officers at Rikers Island and other city jails have jammed fingers into their crotches, fondled their breasts and asked them to "prove" they were menstruating by removing their tampons.
Records obtained by WNYC and The Intercept under New York state's Freedom of Information law show that New York City's 311 call center has received at least 83 complaints about correction officers subjecting visitors to strip searches or cavity searches since 2010. Over the same period, the Board of Correction received 84 complaints about visitors being searched improperly.
At least 27 women have filed or are in the process of filing lawsuits that accuse the Department of Correction of unlawfully strip-searching visitors, according to the report.
Lillian Rivera charged in a notice of claim informing the city of her plans to file a lawsuit that an officer wearing gloves touched her genitals, "forcibly penetrated" her body cavities and squeezed her breasts.
"What I've been subjected to by some COs on Rikers Island goes beyond horrendous," Rivera, whose husband was incarcerated at Rikers, told the city Board of Correction in July 2015 testimony. "This is a living nightmare."
The city Department of Correction and the jail guards' union denied that correction officers are routinely violating visitors' constitutional rights.
"DOC has zero tolerance for the mistreatment of visitors, and we take such complaints seriously," department spokesman Peter Thorne said.
Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, said the complaints represent an effort to oust officers who are particularly good at keeping contraband out of the jails.
"These allegations are nothing new to correction officers," Husamudeen said. "Usually they are made by visitors and inmates against officers who are very diligent and thorough at doing their job and end up catching them or the inmates trying to bring in contraband."