Fifteen Rikers Island inmates have been indicted for carrying out a planned assault on a city Department of Correction captain on Thanksgiving Day, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced Thursday.
The attack was an act of retaliation, according to Clark, after Capt. Awais Ghauri used pepper spray to dissolve a fight between inmates on Nov. 2. One of the defendants in the case, Jason Reid, allegedly threatened to “cut” Ghauri if he used the pepper spray, the district attorney added.
After the incident, Reid, who is member of the Bloods street gang, gathered his fellow inmates and planned an assault on Ghauri, Clark said.
An investigation into the Thanksgiving Day beating revealed surveillance footage of the defendants meeting at 12:15 p.m., 90 minutes before they attacked Ghauri, Clark said. Reid knocked the captain down from behind, and punched him several times, she said.
The other 14 defendants surrounded the two and “physically blocked and threatened” other officers trying to rescue Ghauri, with a few of the inmates using a stolen canister of pepper spray as well, Clark said. Two of the indicted inmates, Maurice Hennegan and Lyemel Summerville, later joined Reid in punching Ghauri, who suffered multiple injuries, according to the district attorney.
“This case presents a chilling picture of the society of violence on Rikers Island, with gang members who think they control the jails,” Clark said. “But they do not; the rule of law does.”
The 15 defendants face a slew of charges, including first-degree robbery, attempted gang assault and riot, according to Clark. If convicted of first-degree robbery, the inmates could face up to 25 years in prison.
“We will never tolerate any assault on our officers,” Cynthia Brann, city Department of Correction commissioner, said. “As demonstrated by these indictments and arrests, anyone involved in such an assault will face consequences.”
Seven of the defendants were arraigned before Bronx Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary on Tuesday and are expected back in court on March 14. The remaining eight were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.
Clark urged the Board of Correction to “implement severe consequences” for violent inmates at Rikers Island, who have repeatedly assaulted fellow inmates and correction officers.
In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing abundant misconduct in the jail complex, revealed a 10-year plan to shutter Rikers Island.
He proposed a network of smaller, borough-based jails to replace the facility, which would reduce the city’s inmate population from 9,400 to 5,000 in the process. In order to achieve the population reduction, de Blasio pledged $30 million to programs aimed at diverting inmates with mental health issues and those charged with low-level crimes to other institutions.
“We are building a correctional system that is smaller, safer and fairer - one in which jails are safe and humane,” the mayor said at the time.