A former Rikers Island Correction Officer who shattered a teenager's teeth in an unprovoked attack and tried to cover it up will not serve any jail time.
Sandy Arkhurst pleaded guilty to felony assault for using a baton to beat Rodolfo Rodriguez in a Rikers shower in 2016. Arkurst also admitted to filing false reports in an attempt to cover-up the attack. He faced a maximum potential sentence of seven years in prison.
Assistant Bronx District Attorney Allison Green asked acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary to sentence Arkhurst to 1-to-3 years in state prison when he pled guilty October 3rd, but Justice Neary promised him five years' probation and 200 hours of community service instead, according to a transcript of the proceeding obtained by Gothamist.
Green reiterated her request that Arkhurst be sentenced to 1-to-3 years on Thursday, but Justice Neary kept his promise to Arkhurst and spared him jail time.
Arkhurst was required to resign from the Department of Correction. He will keep his pension.
Rodriguez, now 21, was in court for Arkhurst's sentencing. He told Gothamist he "lost a few of my teeth,” in the beating. “Lost nerves in my mouth. There's a scar right of my eye,” he said.
Still, Rodriguez added, "I wouldn't wish jail on my worst enemy."
“I’m just glad something happened. That the situation got noticed," he said.
When it was his time to give a victim impact statement, Rodriguez told Justice Neary he wanted to ask Arkhurst why he attacked him, but Justice Neary would not allow it. Rodriguez then said he was thankful prosecutors believed him.
"Hopefully this won't happen to anyone else," he told the court. "From my experience on Rikers, jail is going to be jail," he said. Rodriguez is currently being held on Rikers on unrelated charges.
Arkhurst was the leader of an elite group of Rikers Island guards known as a Probe Team. Wearing body armor and wielding super-sized wooden batons known as "probe team sticks," Probe Teams respond to fights, disturbances and recalcitrant but not always violent prisoners who refuse to comply with orders or procedures.
Prisoners have another name for such groups: beat-up squads.
Arkhurst led a beat-up squad at a Rikers jail called the Eric M. Taylor Center. Rodriguez, then 18, was being held there when he refused to enter his assigned housing unit on June 3rd, 2016, according to a news release by the Bronx District Attorney and the City's Department of Investigation. Arkhurst's Probe Team responded, and pepper-sprayed Rodriguez.
Handcuffed behind his back, Rodriguez was taken to a shower—ostensibly to wash off the pepper spray. Instead, Arkhurst beat Rodriguez with his fists and truncheon. A nearby security camera did not catch video of the assault, but it did capture Rodriguez screaming “No…Chill," according to prosecutors.
Rodriguez said that after he reported the attack, Captain Arkhurst's colleagues threatened to retaliate against him, but never did. There were “a lot of threats," he said, "but nothing happened."
Arkhurst tried to cover up his crime by filing false reports. The false reports claimed Rodriguez banged his own head on the wall, and that he attacked Arkhurst while trying to run out of the room.
Arkhurst convinced his Probe Team comrades to corroborate his lies, and they too filed false reports, prosecutors allege. Correction Officers John Penafiel, 29, Christopher Squillaro, 31, Orlando Rivera, 58, and Michael Nicholson, 42, were arrested and charged with multiple counts of first-degree falsifying business records.
Rivera pleaded guilty to official misconduct and resigned in July 2018, Patrice O'Shaughnessy, a spokesperson for the Bronx D.A., told Gothamist. He received a conditional discharge. The rest are due back in court November 18th.
Arkhurst's is a bold-faced name among Rikers guards, according to Rob Rickner, a civil rights attorney suing Arkhurst for beating another former Rikers inmate.
“Captain Arkhurst assaulted at least four other people before he brutally assaulted Mr. Rodriguez. The City should have fired him—not promoted him to captain," Rickner said, referring to Arkhurst’s elevation in 2014.
“I’m not aware of any other Rikers guard who has been sued for causing as many serious injuries as Arkhurst," Rickner added.
Rickner is representing Moriyah Razel Lewis, who was "stomped on ... multiple times in the head and back" by Arkhurst and other Correction Officers, his lawsuit alleges. While Lewis was on the floor, they allegedly pepper-sprayed him "for an extended period of time at close range. He was cuffed and then hit a few more times. He never resisted or fought back." The case is pending.
Nothing in Thursday's proceeding or the transcript of Arkhurst's October 3rd guilty plea suggests Justice Neary considered evidence that he attacked other prisoners. Supreme Court rulings give sentencing judges broad powers to consider a wide array of information, including a defendant's other alleged crimes, including ones that didn't result in a conviction or even an arrest.
Justice Neary was a Westchester County prosecutor for 28 years. Last year, Neary acquitted NYPD Sergeant Hugh Barry of murder for shooting a 66-year-old Deborah Danner in her home.
He also disparaged an accused carjacker's lawyer, prompting an appellate court to vacate the resulting conviction and order a new trial because of Neary's "pervasive denigration of defendant's counsel, in front of the jury."
Besides being criminally prosecuted and sued in civil court, Arkhurst is a named defendant in a federal class-action lawsuit the city settled by agreeing to reforms. The lawsuit, known as the Nunez case, was supposed to end unjustified attacks on inmates by guards at Rikers. Instead, a federal monitor just released a report showing that guards are using force at rates higher than they have since the monitor was installed in 2015.
Travis Woods, a co-plaintiff in the Nunez Case, alleged Arkhurst and other Correction Officers beat him so badly they ruptured one of his eardrums. Because the beating occurred inside a Rikers Island infirmary, a doctor momentarily interrupted it. Arkhurst paused for that one moment. When the doctor left, "Arkhurst resumed beating Mr. Woods, but this time they applied significantly more force," the lawsuit alleges.
Rikers' Assistant Deputy Warden Ramos is alleged to have OK'd the beatdown by saying, "It's on and poppin' now," as Arkhurst and the others put on rubber gloves.
In another case the city settled, Arkhurst and other Correction Officers allegedly entered Umar Alli's cell to beat him, while yelling "we're going to kill you." After beating Alli in his cell, they frog-marched him to an unoccupied medical clinic, where they allegedly continued to beat him.
Arkhurst’s lenient sentence was a letdown for Darcel Clark, the Bronx District Attorney who was reelected on Tuesday after running unopposed.
The New York City Correction Officers Benevolent Association has been Clark's biggest single campaign contributor for her two runs for office. Few of her investigations result in successful prosecution of Rikers guards, according to local news website The City.
Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the New York City Correction Captains Association, did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Arkhurst himself declined to comment as he left court today, except to wish himself luck. His lawyer, Kenneth Montgomery, told Gothamist, "Sandy served admirably for the New York City Department of Correction."
Montgomery added: Sandy is looking forward to putting this behind him and getting on with his life."