After a sharp decline in fights at Rikers Island, it appeared that the jail was finally handling at least one aspect of its operations correctly. Now, the Times reports that the improvements were not the impressive results of a new warden and deputy warden appointed in 2011—it was the result of badly fudged numbers, and an apparent attempt to cover them up.
The warden, William Clemons, and the deputy warden, Turhan Gumusdere, did not, it turns out, successfully quell the violence among teenage inmates upon adopting their new roles at Rikers, with the number of fights reportedly plummeting 66 percent in just three months. Instead, investigators found that they simply didn't bother with reviewing the data at all—the report found 375 incidents that should have been logged as fights were merely omitted.
When interviewed by investigators in 2012, Clemons said he rarely reviewed the data on prison fights, since the spreadsheets were "difficult to read on his computer and could not figure out how to print them." That's OK, though, because he "noticed fewer alarms" during his tenure, so he logically deduced that fights must be down.
Gumusdere also had "difficulty understanding the incident reports," so instead passed the job off to his subordinates, who he also described as "incompetent."
The report produced as a result of the inquiry was unsurprisingly scathing, including recommendations that both men be demoted on the basis that they summarily "abdicated" their responsibilities.
But rather than fire the men or demote them as the audit suggested, erstwhile Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro went ahead and edited the report, cutting large swaths of incriminating language, including this:
If Warden Clemmons and Deputy Warden Gumusdere routinely reviewed video and/or source documents involving uses of force, serious injury to inmate incidents, and/or inmate fights and assaults, it defies logic to think that they could have concluded that the number of fights RNDC reported during these months was accurate...
Schriro, however, defended her sanitized report, telling the Times that "in all instances the report repeatedly indicated that there wasn’t an indication of wrongdoing, but of a lack of attentiveness," as though that is somehow less nefarious.
“I appreciated all the information, but for the purpose that I had in mind it needed to be removed,” said Schiro, who left her role earlier this year and currently serves as the commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection in Connecticut.
Clemons was promoted to assistant chief of administration during the investigation, on the basis that his "deficiencies" had not carried over to his performance in other areas, and that he had expressed both "insight and remorse" regarding his negligence.
The current commissioner, Joseph Ponte, this year promoted both Clemons and Gumusdere again, asserting that both "have shown exemplary leadership in the current roles and are fully committed to the Department’s reform agenda," a statement from the Department of Correction said.
The edited report was also the only version handed over to the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which was conducting its own investigation into the jail's handling of teenage inmates. Despite requests for "all relevant documents," the office was never privy to the original, unmodified report.
Last month, Deputy Commissioner Florence Finkle, the chief investigator of the division who wrote the report, resigned her post after her office was found to be "overwhelmed by the number of cases and largely ineffectual."