Four Rikers Island inmates accused of fracturing a correction officer’s spine during a weekend attack at the jail complex were arraigned in Bronx criminal court on Monday, the district attorney’s office said.
Correction officer Jean Souffrant, 39, was working at the George Motchan Detention Center just before 6:30 p.m. on Saturday when inmate Steven Espinal, 18, punched him in the face, according to a criminal complaint. Souffrant hit his head against a concrete wall before he fell to the floor. Espinal and three other inmates then continued to punch and kick him while he was unconscious, the complaint said.
Souffrant, who had been on the job for no more than two years, suffered a fracture to the second bone of the cervical spine, located in his neck, as well as internal bleeding in his head and a cut to the back of his head, per the complaint. He was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital in serious but stable condition on Saturday.
During the assault, which was caught on surveillance video, Espinal allegedly made remarks indicating the attack was premeditated and an act of retaliation after he was written up by Souffrant the week before, the complaint said.
Espinal and the three other inmates — identified as Samson Walston, 18, Nazeem Francis, 18, and Devin Burns, 18 — are facing a slew of charges, including gang assault, assault on an officer and conspiracy, according to the complaint.
Espinal was held on $500,000 bail following his arraignment on Monday. Walston, Francis and Burns were held on $300,000 bail, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office said. All four suspects are due back in court on Friday.
The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association had identified a fifth inmate in the attack, but information regarding his involvement or whether he would be charged was not immediately available on Monday.
The Department of Correction did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
The George Motchan Detention Center is set to close this summer. It’s the first facility in the violence- and corruption-plagued complex that is slated to close under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year plan to shut down Rikers Island in favor of smaller, borough-based jails.
Eric Phillips, de Blasio’s press secretary, said the mayor had spoken to Souffrant.
“We’ll get to the bottom of this heinous attack and hold those involved accountable,” Phillips tweeted on Sunday. “COs have one of the hardest jobs in city government — often thankless and always dangerous.”
Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association spokesman Michael Skelly, however, blamed the de Blasio administration for not doing enough to protect correction officers. He said that several inmates involved in the attack were members of the Bloods gang and added that the union is requesting the Justice Department to step in to address gang violence in city jails.
“The union feels he’s turned his back on us and stripped every tool we have to keep our jail safe,” Skelly said on Sunday. “We are calling on the U.S. Justice Department to immediately help us fight the gang problem in New York City jails. The mayor has proven to be either unwilling or unable to support us and keep officers safe or even other inmates safe.”