After a two-month trial and four days of deliberations, a jury has convicted five Rikers Island correction officers of brutally beating an inmate and then trying to cover up the assault. Eliseo Perez Jr., who was an Assistant Chief of Security at the time of the assault, ordered five guards to beat Jahmal Lightfoot until he had fractured eye sockets and a broken nose, while three other officers stood guard, according to prosecutors.
Perez, along with Alfred Rivera, Tobias Parker, Jose Parra, and David Rodriguez, has been convicted of all charges, including a top charge of attempted gang assault in the first degree. The officers each face up to 15 years in prison for that charge alone, not to mention the myriad other charges against them, which include attempted assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree, and falsifying business records.
As the prosecution alleged, in July of 2012, the officers decided to "set the tone and make an example" of Lightfoot after an uptick in violence among inmates on Rikers. The officers were apparently searching inmates' cells for contraband when Lightfoot made eye contact with Perez, who became angered by the "stare-down" and ordered the other guards to attack him, according to the District Attorney's office.
Lightfoot, who is now 31 and was released from prison in 2014 after serving a sentence for robbery, said during the trial that he was kicked and stomped on by boots that felt "like a brick," and that he was unarmed and hadn't disobeyed the officers. After the beating, he said, he was hardly able to move; for months in the aftermath of the attack, he suffered frequent headaches and blurry vision, and spit up blood.
"They beat me almost to death," Lightfoot said following the officers' convictions. "I hope that nobody has to go through that."
10 officers were arrested in total in connection with Lightfoot's beating, and one, Jeffrey Richard, has been acquitted, after it was determined that he wasn't directly involved in the beating. Three other officers, Harmon Frierson, Dwayne Maynard, and Gerald Vaughn (the latter of whom prosecutors say also ordered the other officers to attack)—will be tried by Justice Steven Barrett on Friday. A tenth officer will be tried separately because of medical problems, according to the New York Times.
"Today's convictions make a strong statement: savagely beating an inmate will not be tolerated in the City's jails," said DOI Commissioner Mark Peters, whose department worked on the investigation into the attack on Lightfoot. "This criminal investigation demonstrates how corruption can jeopardize the integrity of an elite response unit in the jails and the people's faith in the professionalism of the jail system overall."
Meanwhile, Norman Seabrook, who's president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association and was arrested this morning for wire fraud, called the verdict "an absolute travesty" and argued that "Correction Officers are treated differently and disrespected for doing the job they are sworn to do—protect New Yorkers."
Perez retired in June of 2013, but the four other officers convicted yesterday will be fired from their positions, according to the DOI. They'll all be sentenced on September 6th.
In the past four years, the Bronx DA's office has prosecuted 26 officers other than those arrested for the Lightfoot attack, all of whom have been accused of using excessive force against inmates or helping cover up attacks. According to the Times, 11 of those cases are still open, while 9 of the accused have been convicted and 6 acquitted.
In a report on Rikers Island released last week, a federal monitor noted that despite some progress, correction officers at the facility continue to use excessive force against inmates. When asked about the matter on WNYC last week, Mayor de Blasio said that "what was tolerated [on Rikers Island] for many years was just unacceptable," but cited the monitor's report of a slight decrease in violence against inmates and staff in 2016 as an indicator that "finally change is happening to Rikers Island."