What to Know
- 3 NYC women have filed notices of claim against the Department of Correction alleging they were sexually abuses during recent jail visits
- One woman said she was so traumatized by the experience that she has yet to return to visit her loved one
- The DOC said that since February, the department has received 32 complaints/allegations of improper visitor searches; DOI is reviewing 13
Searches of visitors in the bathrooms of New York City jails are prohibited. So are invasive body cavity and strip searches.
Yet, three New York City women have filed notices of claim against the Department of Correction, claiming they were sexually abused by correction officers during visits to see inmates in recent months.
Stephanie Sanchez said she was ordered into a bathroom in the Brooklyn House of Detention and threatened with arrest if she didn’t comply with an officer’s order.
“By the time she was finished touching the top, like my breasts weren’t even in my bra. My bra was all the way up to my neck,” Sanchez said. “She (the officer), went in, she went inside, she moved around, touched my private area. And I just had to stand there. I was in shock.”
Shauntay Mayfield said she was threatened that if she didn’t consent to the search, child welfare authorities might be called.
“They told me, ‘Oh, ACS is going to get involved. I know you have kids. You want to go home to them tonight?’” Mayfield said.
In February, the I-Team interviewed two other women who said they had been improperly searched in bathrooms on Rikers. At the time, the DOC claimed that bathrooms had been used because of “space limitations,” but promised the practice had been stopped.
Mayfield said she was searched in June, Sanchez in July.
Cecily Strong said she was targeted by officers in a visit area on Rikers.
“I had to basically take off my bra, and my pants were open. When I walked out I cried. I just felt disgusting," she said. “They treat us like inmates with no rights.”
A DOC spokesman said that since February, the DOC has received 32 complaints or allegations of improper searches from visitors. Of the 32, 13 are being investigated by the city's Department of Investigation to see if criminal charges are warranted. The remainder are currently under review with DOC’s investigation division.
Since 2016, the I-Team has reported on multiple claims of female visitors that they were sexually abused during jail visits, in direct contradiction to DOC’s stated policy. In December 2016, the Department of Investigation sent a letter to DOC making sweeping recommendations to the department on improving visitor procedures. It wasn’t until June 2018 that DOC updated its policy directive.
In a statement to the I-Team, Commissioner Cynthia Brann said, “We have worked hard to improve the visit process by implementing recommendations from the Department of Investigation, such as increased camera coverage of search areas, re-training officers in search protocols and updating our directive to clarify guidelines on pat-frisk procedures. All allegations of improper searches are immediately reviewed by DOC’s Investigation Division and DOI.”
Attorney Alan Figman, who represents nearly 40 women who have made accusations of sex abuse, said it’s clear the guidelines are not being put into practice.
“I look at DOC as a department that is totally out of control. The only way to achieve any sort of regulation is to bring in federal monitors,” he said.
Mayfield said she was so traumatized by the experience, she is terrified to return and see her loved one.