What to Know
- The I-Team first reported on complaints of illegal strip searches last November
- Now more than 25 women have come forward alleging they were abused by correction officers at NYC jails
- The Department of Correction says it has zero tolerance for mistreatment of visitors
More than 25 women have now filed notices of claim against New York City alleging they were sexually abused by correction officers during visits to jails.
The I-Team first reported on complaints of illegal strip searches in November.
The women claim they were abused in the visitor’s center on Rikers Island, as well as at the Manhattan Detention Center and the Brooklyn House of Detention. Much of the alleged abuse was in recent months, after the head of the city's Department of Correction expressed concern over the I-Team’s reports.
Department of Correction guidelines prohibit body cavity and strip searches. Limited pat frisks are allowed, but only over clothing, after signed consent, and with a supervisor present.
The latest notice of claim was filed by Pamela Roth, the attorney for Lyshineek Morales, who said she was subjected to a body cavity search on Rikers Island in late August. Morales told the I-Team she was ordered to pull her underwear down and then squat and cough.
"Honestly, I was fighting back tears,” she said.
Several women claimed they were also ordered to squat and cough, and said they were told they had been randomly picked to be strip searched.
Lanique Green told the I-Team she was ordered to pull her pants down during a visit to the Manhattan Detention Center in April. “It’s just humiliating,” she said. She said her genitals were completely visible.
Nasheeka Spencer, another woman involved in the court proceedings, claimed she was subjected to a body cavity search at the Brooklyn House of Detention in July. “I was violated,” she said.
Alan Figman, who represents 25 women, said many of his clients have been interviewed by investigators in the Bronx district attorney's office, and several sources familiar with the situation tell the I-Team the prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation into the matter.
The city's Department of Investigation is also looking into the claims.
A spokesman for the Department of Correction said the agency has "zero tolerance for the mistreatment of visitors" and takes all complaints seriously.
"In order to ensure that all consented searches are done properly, cameras have been installed in the search area of the Benjamin Ward Central Visit Facility (on Rikers)," the spokesman said.
The DOC did not say if there were cameras in visiting areas of jails in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Figman said the Department of Justice should implement a monitoring system.
"The Commissioner acts like it isn’t happening, but it’s rampant, it’s all over," Figman said.