INJUSTICE

Complaint: Rikers Island Prison Guard Beat Inmate

The officer, Rodiny Calypso, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/Getty

A guard at the Rikers Island prison complex in New York City cuffed an inmate’s hands behind his back and punched him in the face three times, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court this week. The inmate had asked the guard for help recovering items that had fallen before the alleged assault. The officer then allegedly tried to cover up the assault.

The officer, Rodiny Calypso, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Calypso took an inmate to the shower area of a Rikers housing facility on Feb. 27, 2014, according to the criminal complaint. At the time, the man’s hands were handcuffed behind his back and he “posed no danger to Calypso or any other correction officer or inmate,” the document states. But Calypso allegedly opened the stall door and punched the man.

“Calypso then followed [the inmate] into the shower stall and continued to assault him as [the inmate] was still rear-cuffed and unable to defend himself,” the complaint adds.

The complaint says that other corrections officers tried cover up the alleged assault. In an allegedly falsified report justifying the use of force, Calypso claimed that the inmate “violently broke free” from his “escort hold.” A surveillance video shows “that Calypso initiated the encounter and that [the inmate] did not attempt to ‘violently break free’ from Calypso’s ‘escort hold,’” and that the inmate did not try to spit on Calypso, contrary to the guard’s claims, according to the complaint.

The allegedly falsified use of force report also claims that the inmate at one point pinned Calypso to the shower wall—another claim contradicted by the video. “In fact, Calypso put [the inmate] in a headlock and punched him several times in the head and subsequently repeatedly elbowed [the inmate] in the head from behind,” the complaint said.

The elbowing occurred while the inmate was restrained by another officer, according to the complaint.

But it’s the details of how that situation allegedly came to be that offer insightful details. Calypso and the inmate in question had supposedly never crossed paths before the day of the alleged assault. The inmate asked Calypso to retrieve some items that had fallen out of the shower’s cuffing port for him. “Calypso initially declined to do so and [the inmate] grew irritated, at several points asking Calypso why he was afraid of him,” the complaint said.

Calypso finally got the items and went to talk to someone else. At that point, the inmate claims, he heard Calypso saying something about a “PBA,” or “personal body alarm”—a move that calls in the Probe Team for an emergency.

Then Calypso allegedly opened the shower door and began his assault on the inmate.

The FBI agent writing the complaint said Calypso’s previous account of the incident to a Bronx grand jury differed significantly from the video evidence. And, Agent Michael Weniger added, the shirt the inmate allegedly spat on—one of the provocations cited by Calypso—was not preserved as evidence.

The 38-year-old Calypso has been a corrections officer for 13 years, according to his LinkedIn profile. He said he graduated from CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004.

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“My client welcomes the opportunity to address these allegations in court,” Calypso’s attorney, Joey Jackson, told The Daily Beast. The Corrections Officers Benevolent Association did not return a request for comment.

Calypso may be the latest Rikers corrections officer accused of misconduct, but he is certainly not the first. New York City’s most infamous jail has been plagued by accusations of abuse, poor management, and inhumane conditions. Perhaps most famously, Kalief Browder, who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack at age 16, was imprisoned on the island for three years without trial, and committed suicide at age 22, just two years after being released.

A 2014 report by former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, looked at “whether adolescents are subject to excessive and unnecessary use of force” at the jail. “Rikers is a dangerous place for adolescents,” it concluded, and said that corrections officers created a “systematic and pervasive pattern and practice of utilizing unnecessary and excessive force against adolescent inmates.”

Last year, a corrections officer named Nicole Bartley was charged with sexually assaulting an inmate—and conspiracy to bring him weed. “I was in love with him. He used me and played me for a fool,” she claimed. Female inmates have also lodged complaints of sexual assault against male guards at the jail.

Other corrections officers have recently been arrested for a contraband smuggling ring. And in December, a former Rikers guard was convicted for his role in the 2012 beating death of an inmate.

“As the evidence at trial established, [Brian] Coll killed [Ronald] Spear by repeatedly kicking him in the head as he lay restrained on the ground, telling him before he died not to forget who did this to him,” Bharara said.