Prison Commissioner Buried Investigators' Findings Of Rikers Island Wardens' 'Complete Abdication' Of Responsibilities
from the punishment?-promotions-and-MORE-promotions! dept
Last month, we covered a scathing DOJ report on the treatment of the teenage population at Rikers Island. Beatings handed out by staff were only surpassed (barely) by uncontrolled inmate-on-inmate violence. Medical staff were pressured into covering up the source of inmates’ injuries, some of which were created with anything guards had on hand — including broomsticks, batons, radios and flashlights. Many incidents occurred out of sight of the institution’s cameras. Numerous others went unreported.
It gets worse.
Under the oversight of a new warden and deputy warden in 2011, the number of inmate fights on Rikers Island fell dramatically. This was taken as a sign the new leadership was working.
The correction commissioner at the time hailed the accomplishment at a City Council hearing and gave the men an award for their “exceptional efforts.” Within a month, both officials were promoted.
But the numbers weren’t just wrong. They were deliberately wrong.
A dozen investigators eventually produced a confidential report, obtained by The New York Times, which concluded that hundreds of inmate fights had been omitted from departmental statistics; that the warden, William Clemons, and the deputy warden, Turhan Gumusdere, had “abdicated all responsibility” in reporting the statistics and that both should be demoted.
This report, with the fudged numbers, was cleansed of any negative findings referencing Clemons and Gumusdere by Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro before being handed to the US Attorney’s office. The final report claimed it could find no evidence of a concerted coverup effort by any individuals, but made it clear that both the warden and deputy warden neglected to scrutinize the numbers they were being fed by staff, despite being specifically charged with doing so.
Phrases removed by Schriro include such damning statements as:
“[I]t defies logic to think that they [Clemons and Gumusdere] could have concluded that the number of fights RNDC reported during these months was accurate.”
“Clemons and Deputy Warden Gumusdere failed to appropriately supervise staff, review their monthly statistics with a critical eye, establish internal controls for the production of accurate data and that they abdicated responsibility for the inaccurate statistics reported by the jail.”
The warden who filled Clemons’ vacant position after his promotion immediately resigned when he saw how much inmate fight totals would jump if accurately recorded. He only agreed to stay when a full investigation was promised.
The correction commissioner who excised direct references to the wardens’ failures and promoted them remains unapologetic.
She said she stood by her decision to make edits to the audit, saying that the excluded portions contained confidential disciplinary information. “I appreciated all the information, but for the purpose that I had in mind it needed to be removed,” said Ms. Schriro…
Except that all that excised “confidential disciplinary information” was never used.
And no one was ultimately disciplined over the problematic violence statistics, Ms. Schriro said.
As for the wardens exposed for their “complete abdication” of their responsibilities, both have ready excuses for the impossible fight numbers.
Gumusdere blames everyone else for not personally hand-delivering fight numbers to him and, presumably, writing up his reports and otherwise ensuring his job was being done properly, with or without his assistance/awareness.
Mr. Gumusdere “was unable to describe the specific tasks of security office staff and stated that he had no knowledge of the inmate fight tracking spreadsheet, which archived email records show he received daily during his tenure as deputy warden…”
Mr. Gumusdere told investigators that he had difficulty understanding the incident reports and rarely reviewed them. He said he delegated this to his subordinates, whom he described as “incompetent,” according to the audit.
Clemons’ excuse is just as terrible. HOW DO I COMPUTER?
Mr. Clemons said he rarely reviewed reports on daily inmate fights, according to the audit. Though the data was delivered to him electronically, he said he found the spreadsheets difficult to read on his computer and could not figure out how to print them.
He told investigators that he assumed everything was improving because he “noticed fewer alarms” going off. All that data going to complete waste because the head warden is stymied by spreadsheets and listening for bells.
This fine specimen of rigid oversight has been promoted yet again. And, again, over the protestations of others.
Last May, Mr. Ponte named Mr. Clemons to be the department’s top-ranking uniformed officer. The appointment came after the city’s Department of Investigation, which routinely vets high-ranking staff members of city agencies, conducted a review of Mr. Clemons and recommended he not be appointed as chief of department, according to a former city official.
The new Correction Commissioner calls Clemons “a man of great integrity.” Florence Finkle, the head of the investigation division that recommended against his promotion, resigned under pressure from Commissioner Ponte.
Crooked all the way up and violent all the way down. That’s Rikers Island.