N.Y. prison guards charged in severe beating
On the night three years ago when Kevin Moore's dreadlocks were ripped out and his ribs and facial bones were broken, a group of New York state corrections officers involved in a confrontation with him said that they were the victims, that Moore, a 56-year-old inmate, had attacked them.
To make their case, the officers, who worked at Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, New York, produced a trove of evidence. There were photos of a back injury one of them had suffered; pages from use-of-force reports; assorted memorandums and entries in a cellblock log book — all of it attesting to the professionalism the officers displayed in subduing Moore.
In fact, it was all lies, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday as they unsealed charges of civil rights violations and fraud against five of the officers involved in the Nov. 12, 2013, beating.
The back injury? Corrections Officer George Santiago Jr. had actually hit another officer with a baton to make it appear that the inmate had attacked him, the prosecutors said. The stacks of reports? Falsified, the prosecutors said, by several officers who cleaned up Moore's blood and then, instead of sending him to the hospital, placed him in solitary confinement overnight.
When the episode was over, Santiago took Moore's dreadlocks as a "trophy," bragging that he wanted them as decoration for his motorcycle, according to the indictment filed by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.
"Excessive use of force in prisons, we believe, has reached crisis proportions in New York state," Bharara said.
Santiago, along with another officer, Carson Morris, and a sergeant, Kathy Scott, were arrested by FBI agents and charged with depriving Moore of his civil rights, falsifying records and conspiracy. Morris initiated the beating, striking Moore with his baton, according to the indictment. Scott, who was supposed to be supervising the others, held Moore down as he begged, "Make it stop."
Santiago and Scott pleaded not guilty in federal court in White Plains on Wednesday; each was released on $300,000 bond. Morris was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and will be arraigned in New York.
Two other officers, Donald Cosman and Andrew Lowery, have already pleaded guilty to the same charges and are cooperating with prosecutors, according to Bharara
The arrests come as the state prison system faces intense scrutiny from prosecutors and the news media.
Last year, just 2 miles from Downstate, an inmate at Fishkill Correctional Facility, Samuel Harrell, died after an encounter with as many as 20 officers, known by inmates at that prison as the Beat Up Squad.
And last year, the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of New York opened an investigation into the beating of an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility by three corrections officers, who pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor charge and resigned.
Moore was supposed to be at Downstate overnight and was scheduled to be transported to New York City the next day for a court hearing. Instead of putting him in a regular holding cell, officers assigned him to a mental health unit. When he argued that he had no mental health problems, the guards called for backup, forced him to the ground and held him down, according to the indictment.
At no time did Moore "physically threaten the correction officers," the indictment says.
While he was on the ground, officers kicked and punched him in the face, head and body and beat him with their wooden batons.
"When Moore's pants fell down during the beating, two correction officers, punched and kicked Moore in his exposed groin as he lay on the floor," the indictment said.
Santiago appeared to be the ringleader. "At one point Santiago reared back and kicked Moore in the face and then laughed," the indictment says.
When the beating was over, according to the indictment, the officers "lifted him from the ground where he was lying in a pool of his own blood." Moore had five broken ribs and a collapsed lung and his face was shattered. But instead of taking him to the hospital, officers dragged him to a solitary confinement cell.
Later, Santiago returned to the cellblock and collected a clump of Moore's dreadlocks from the floor, the indictment said.
To justify the beating, the officers needed to explain why, if Moore had attacked them, none of them had been injured. So they created an injury, according to the indictment. Santiago hit another guard across the back with his baton and Morris then rubbed the wounded area with his hands to make the injury look more serious. Scott took several photographs for the official record.
The next morning, New York City correction officers transported Moore to the Rikers Island jail complex before his scheduled court appearance. But supervisors were so shocked by his injuries that they had him taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, according to city officials. There, investigators from the city's Correction Department interviewed him, photographed his injuries and sent the information to state investigators.
Moore spent 17 days in the hospital, according to the indictment.
Cosman and Morris were suspended and eventually resigned, though Cosman stayed on the job until last month.
Though Scott and Santiago were fired in September 2014, they fought back. In a federal lawsuit, they claimed they had been terminated only because they were minorities — Scott because she is a white woman, the complaint said, and Santiago because he is Hispanic.
In April, the two agreed to suspend their suit until the FBI had finished its investigation.
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