The Legal Aid Society and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP filed civil litigation today in Federal court seeking monetary damages on behalf of client “Jane Doe”, who was repeatedly raped, sexually abused, and sexually harassed by two New York City Department of Correction (DOC) officers while she was incarcerated on Rikers Island. The lawsuit was also filed against the City of New York for permitting a culture of systemic rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment of women by staff to exist at the Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s jail at Rikers.
The litigation names as defendants former DOC Officer Jose Cosme and DOC Officer Leonard McNeil, in both their individual and official capacities, and the City of New York. Cosme has since pled guilty to a felony charge of sexual abusing Jane Doe. McNeil is believed to still be employed by the DOC.
In 2015, Jane Doe was a detainee awaiting trial at Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC.) There she suffered a brutal rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment by Cosme. McNeil aided and abetted Cosme’s rape of Jane Doe; and McNeil separately also raped, sexually abused, and sexually harassed Jane Doe. As a result of Cosme and McNeil’s criminal acts, Jane Doe suffers from severe trauma.
After Jane Doe reported the rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment by the two correction officers, staff at the RMSC retaliated against her. This retaliation included implicit threats to her life and other verbal abuse, as well as denial of the most basic necessities such as soap. Jane Doe continues to suffer retaliation both by correction officers and by other inmates at the New York State prison where she is currently housed.
“This is another tragic example underscoring the culture of impunity among DOC staff at Rikers Island, and more reason for City Hall to fast-track the jail’s closing forever,” said Barbara Hamilton, staff attorney with the Criminal Defense Practice’s Special Litigation Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “While no compensation will ever come close to righting the sexual violence our client suffered at the hands of these correction officers, we hope that this civil litigation will urge others who have suffered similar fates to reach out and seek justice.”
“While the City denies that sexual abuse by staff against detainees at RMSC is a serious issue, case after case proves just the opposite,” said Marlen Bodden, Staff Attorney with the Criminal Defense Practice’s Special Litigation Unit. “Rikers Island is a stain on our city, and other incarcerated New Yorkers will undoubtedly suffer like Ms. Doe until the City finally prioritizes its immediate closure.”