A former inmate at the Rikers Island jail secured a $500,000 settlement with New York City after filing a federal civil rights suit against the city and two Rikers corrections officers she claimed raped her while incarcerated.
The former inmate—proceeding as Jane Doe—filed suit against the city in August, one of a number of federal civil rights suits filed against the city by female inmates who claim COs used their positions to sexually harass, assault and rape female inmates at the women’s Rose M. Singer Center jail.
In 2017, for example, the city paid $1.2 million to settle claims by two former inmates that they were repeatedly raped by former CO Benny Santiago. More recently, a federal civil rights class action against the city for deliberate indifference to the culture of sexual assault and rape at the island jail on Monell grounds survived a summary judgment to dismiss by the city.
Attorneys for the plaintiff said that while no compensation would right the sexual violence committed against her, the results will hopefully spur others who have suffered similar traumas at Rikers and elsewhere to speak out.
“This settlement delivers some justice and further underscores the culture of impunity that exists among correctional staff at NYC jails,” Marlen Bodden and Barbara Hamilton, staff attorneys with the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.
Legal Aid was joined in the case by a legal team from Cravath, Swaine & Moore, led by partner Antony Ryan and associate Brittany Sukiennik.
The complaint detailed sexual assault claims against two COs, Jose Cosme and Leonard McNeil. While detained pretrial, the plaintiff claimed McNeil conspired with Cosme to have her raped. She was coerced into entering Cosme’s office on the pretext of cleaning it, out of the sight lines of cameras, only to be brutally raped and assaulted by Cosme, according to the complaint.
Having experienced prior inaction by Department of Correction officials over sexual assault allegations, Doe worked to smuggle clothing she wore during the rape out of the jail. It was ultimately used by prosecutors in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office to secure a guilty plea from Cosme to a felony criminal sex act.
The complaint goes on to allege Doe faced repeated retaliation from jail staff after the rape allegations became public, including refusing to allow her to leave her cell and denying her access to church services. The retaliation continued even after she entered a state prison elsewhere.
According to Doe’s attorneys, McNeil is still a DOC employee.
While attorneys for the city did not represent the COs, a spokeswomen for the its Law Department called the settlement “a fair resolution of the claims against the city and in the best interest of all parties.”
“The health and safety of those in DOC custody remains a top priority,” the spokeswoman said.
Both Cosme and McNeil were represented by outside counsel with Koehler & Isaacs, neither of whom immediately responded to a request for comment.