NEW YORK, June 7 (UPI) — Jurors on Tuesday found five correctional police officers from New York City’s Rikers Island maximum security prison guilty on several criminal counts, stemming from their merciless assault of an inmate four years ago.
The officers were convicted on counts of attempted assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree, falsifying business records, official misconduct — and the most serious charge, attempted gang assault in the first degree.
In all, 10 Rikers officers were accused in the July 2012 beating of prisoner Jahmal Lightfoot at the facility. Nine of the 10 agreed to be tried together, five were convicted Tuesday and one, who was not directly involved in the assault, was acquitted. The tenth accused officer, who has medical issues, will be tried separately.
The other three charged officers requested to be tried by the State Supreme Court‘s judge, not the jury. Justice Steven Barrett said he will announce his verdict for the three at the Bronx courthouse on Friday.
Jurors delivered their verdict Tuesday after four days of deliberations.
The first-degree gang assault charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors argued that Perez wanted to make an example of Lightfoot during an illegal weapons search, known in prison as a “shakedown,” so he ordered the others to relentlessly beat the inmate within earshot of nearby prisoners.
Some of the officers subsequently claimed in paperwork that the inmate had lunged at them with a razor blade. Investigators, and Lightfoot himself, later said he was unarmed.
Lightfoot, 31, who was serving time for robbery, sustained severe injuries to both eye sockets and his nose during the beating. He was released from Rikers Island in 2014.
“Unfortunately, successful prosecutions of correction officers for misconduct and abuse of prisoners are rare,” attorney Jonathan Abady, who has represented Rikers inmates in brutality cases, said Tuesday. “Regrettably, some people think of prisoners as less than human.”
“We have zero tolerance for any illegal behavior on the part of staff, and the officers found guilty of felonies will be terminated,” New York Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte said. “The vast majority of our officers carry out their duties with care and integrity, and we are taking many steps to ensure that all staff adhere to the highest professionalism.”
Lightfoot’s beating is one of several brutality cases alleged at Rikers Island. Last year, three officers were charged in the death of a sick inmate in 2012.