On Monday, the District Attorney's Office announced the indictment of five NYC Department of Correction officers, as well as one former supervisor, for allegedly conducting illicit strip searches at the Manhattan Detention Complex on Centre Street. The Correction workers then allegedly covered up the searches with phony paperwork, in which they made visitors "sign consent forms under false pretenses" and "repeatedly [lied] in official documents," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said in a statement.
The illegal searches happened when the officers were helming the visitor area of the jail, according to a press release from Vance's office. Typically when someone comes to the complex to visit an inmate, officers asked them to sign a consent form to be "pat frisked" so that they don't walk in with any contraband—a procedure that doesn't involve removing clothing. (Those declining a search may be denied entry into the jail or leave of their own accord, or officers can allow them to visit via a "non-contact booth" that doesn't allow physical interaction with people incarcerated there.)
But according to the D.A.'s office, these officers "routinely" made women visiting the jail "remove their pants and underwear," and also examined "visitors’ vaginal and buttocks areas" in addition to "touching visitors' breasts." While doing so, they “blocked exits, surrounded visitors on all sides [and] forcibly removed visitors’ clothing," according to the indictment, as reported in The New York Times.
Update: In a report released this week, the Department of Investigation stated that from the spring of 2018 onward it had noticed an uptick in complaints from visitors, particularly women, who said they'd been a part of illegal strip or "body cavity" searches. Following their investigation, the DOI "determined that DOC continues to subject visitors, mostly women, to invasive searches that violate DOC’s own policies and are inconsistent with the dignity and rights of visitors." In a statement provided to Gothamist, DOC Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Peter Thorne said: "People visiting loved ones in our city’s jails should feel safe, period. If these allegations are proven true, the officers involved face termination. They have already been suspended.”
Former DOC Captain Leslie-Ann Absalom, and Officers Jennifer George, Lisette Rodriguez, Daphne Farmer, Latoya Shuford, and Alifa Waiters have been charged with misconduct, conspiracy, and unlawful imprisonment for the alleged illegal searches. Each pleaded not guilty and was eventually released without bail, according to the Times.
Last year, two women sued the Department of Corrections over allegedly being forced to undergo illegal strip searches at Rikers Island.
“There is no excuse for violating the human rights of New Yorkers visiting our City’s jails," Vance said. "As alleged, these officers flagrantly abused their power when they ignored their training and subjected visitors to humiliating and unlawful searches."