By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN and RANDY LEONARD of the NYT:
After the second inmate slashing of the day, guards on Rikers Island were checking inmates for weapons — an exhaustive process that involves repeated strip searches and the use of screening devices.
Standing outside a search pen, the new assistant chief for security, Eliseo Perez Jr., locked eyes with an inmate.
“This guy thinks he’s tough,” Chief Perez said, according to prosecutors in the Bronx. And then he ordered his subordinates to kick the inmate’s teeth in, the authorities said.
On Wednesday, Chief Perez, who recently retired, and nine current officers and supervisors with the New York City Department of Correction were arraigned on criminal charges in connection with that episode on July 11, which resulted in the beating of the inmate and a coordinated effort to cover up the attack, according to an indictment.
Upon Chief Perez’s order, the inmate, Jahmal Lightfoot, was led into the search pen where five members from an elite correction unit were waiting for him, an assistant district attorney, Lawrence Piergrossi, said at the arraignments in State Supreme Court in the Bronx.
“He was tackled, brought to the ground,” Mr. Piergrossi said. “He was repeatedly kicked with his body in a fetal position, covering his head.”
Mr. Piergrossi held up photos of the inmate’s injuries, which included fractured eye sockets and a broken nose.
A few hours later, when the officers realized the extent of Mr. Lightfoot’s injuries, “the cover-up began to unfold,” Mr. Piergrossi said.
One correction officer, Alfred Rivera, claimed that Mr. Lightfoot had slashed him with a makeshift razor, prosecutors said. A captain, Michael Pollard, produced “a sharp piece of metal wrapped with tape,” which the officers claimed was the weapon Mr. Lightfoot had used against Officer Rivera, according to the indictment. But those claims, Mr. Piergrossi said, were untrue.
The charges against Mr. Perez included official misconduct and attempted gang assault.
Norman Seabrook, the president of the union representing correction officers, said that the “charges are excessive — simply a witch hunt into the Department of Correction and members of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association.”
In an interview, Mr. Seabrook said that the use of force against the inmate had been appropriate. “Here we have correction officers paraded into court for merely defending themselves” against an attempted assault, he said.
He disputed that Mr. Lightfoot was beaten. “Was he restrained? Absolutely. Did he have to be restrained? Absolutely,” he said. “The officers did everything that they were supposed to do.”
The defendants pleaded not guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by the office of the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, after an investigation by the city’s Department of Investigation.
Mr. Lightfoot, 28, is serving a four-year term in state prison on a robbery conviction. Investigators do not believe that he was involved in the earlier slashings, although he had previously faced repeated disciplinary actions for possession of weapons while at Rikers, the authorities said.
The episode involving Mr. Lightfoot had previously been described by The Village Voice.