Rikers Probe Has Federal Prosecutor Peeved


     MANHATTAN (CN) – When he condemned the “Lord of the Flies” treatment of teenage inmates at Rikers Island at a press conference last month, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara appeared confident that New York City would be able to clean up shop within 49 days to avoid litigation.
     But a New York Times investigation on Sunday may have shaken his faith.
     After the paper uncovered a confidential prison report, Bharara said that the deadline is up, and he stands “ready to take legal action.”
     The Times said that the confidential Department of Corrections document recommended the demotion the prison’s former warden William Clemons and his then-deputy Turhan Gumesdere for having “abdicated all responsibility” in reporting statistics of fights involving teens at Rikers Island.
     The officials failed to report 375 incidents that should have been logged as fights, the report said.
     Instead of disciplining them, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new commissioner Joseph Ponte promoted the men, and the report’s chief investigator was pressured to resign, the Times noted on Sunday.
     Presciently, the Times reported that its “discovery could complicate any negotiations between the two sides” seeking to avoid a lawsuit.
     Bharara said that the report “does not instill confidence” in its negotiating partner, in a statement on Monday morning.
     “If, as has been reported, incomplete and inaccurate information has been provided to us, and questionable promotions may have occurred, it does not instill confidence in us that the city will quickly meet its constitutional obligations,” Bharara said. “We are not, at this early stage, jumping to conclusions about the city’s commitment to change, and our dialogue is ongoing. However, now that the 49-day waiting period has elapsed and all options are available to us, we stand ready to take legal action to compel long-overdue reforms at Rikers, if that becomes necessary to get the job done.”
     The New York City Law Department official told the Times that the corrections department initially did not produce confidential report because it regarded it as a privileged draft document. The department later turned it over after the U.S. Attorney’s office specifically requested it, the Times reported.
     The Law Department reiterated that explanation to Courthouse News.
     “The city is fully committed to complete and expeditious reform of operations affecting all people held at Rikers Island, including adolescents,” said Zachary Carter, the Law Department’s new corporation counsel under de Blasio. “We expect to demonstrate through our actions and verifiable data – not promises or talk – that meaningful operational reforms are already underway and will continue.”
     The Corrections Department denied that Clemons and Gumusdere intentionally underreported fights and defended the records of the men.
     “When Commissioner Ponte joined the department, he had an opportunity to observe performance,” the office said in a statement. “Based on his assessments, Commissioner Ponte found that Clemons and Gumusdere were the most qualified for promotion among the uniformed ranks.”

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