By ARIEL HERNANDEZ
A Rikers Island inmate is suing the city and two city Department of Correction (DOC) officers after they repeatedly raped and assaulted her in 2015.
The Legal Aid Society—which is representing the woman, who is going by “Jane Doe”—announced the lawsuit last Thursday.
According to the suit, on Nov. 30, 2015, Correction Officer (CO) Jose Cosme ordered Jane Doe to leave her work assignment and clean his office, which was in a private area. While in his office, Cosme allegedly threatened, raped, sexually abused and sexually harassed her.
Jane Doe then reported the incident to the DOC. According to the suit, Cosme pled guilty to a felony charge of sexual abuse, but did not serve time under a plea agreement.
Jane Doe also accused CO Leonard McNeil of aiding and abetting Cosme. She alleged that McNeil also raped, sexually abused and harassed her separately while she was at Rikers.
The suit states that McNeil told a CO named Tabor, whose first name was not included in the lawsuit, that he wanted Jane Doe to work for him as a sanitation worker. McNeil allegedly did not follow CO policy to submit a work request to have Jane Doe work for him. Tabor allegedly did not report McNeil when he discovered that McNeil was not following the proper procedure and allowed McNeil to continue to disregard DOC policy. The suit also alleges that Tabor caught McNeil having sex with Jane Doe and didn’t report the crime.
Due to a lack of evidence that McNeil raped Jane Doe, he is still employed as a CO.
After Jane Doe made her accusations to the DOC, McNeil and other staff members at the prison allegedly retaliated against her, threatening her life, intimidating her and denying basic needs, such as soap.
“The city has long been on notice that there is a significant risk that DOC staff sexually exploit women in its custody,” the suit reads. “The city, nevertheless, permits a culture of systemic rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment of women by staff to exist at the Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC), the women’s jail at Rikers. Despite being on notice of the widespread rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment perpetrated by COs and other staff at RMSC, the city acted with deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of harm to plaintiff and other women in its custody.”
Jane Doe states that after she was raped, she went to the health clinic and asked for an Abbott pregnancy test, which allows for the early detection of pregnancy. She was instead given a regular pregnancy test because she had been in jail for two months and the clinic saw no need for the Abbott test.
According to the suit, Jane Doe suffered severe trauma.
She is asking for compensatory damages for being sexually assaulted as well as for her allegations that the two COs violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights, and for the DOC’s inability to stop sexual assault against women inmates. According to the suit, the amount of compensatory damages will be determined at trial.
“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, a staff attorney with the Criminal Defense Practice 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.”
The Queens Tribune could not reach the DOC for comment by presstime.