Visitor Rape At Rikers Island
January 19. 2017 (Fault Lines) — Fault Lines has covered stories of invasive cop rape cavity searches numerous times. The underlying thread for each involved individuals detained for suspicious reasons and how the courts continually turn a blind eye to this malicious practice. A recent story at The Intercept revealed a new victim of this state-sanctioned rape. The loved ones and visitors of Rikers Island detainees are routinely subject to this invasive procedure for no justifiable reason.
Inmate visit procedures for Rikers Island state visitors are subject to search at any time. Before anyone is allowed to visit an inmate, he or she must pass through a metal detector and have items such as handbags pass through a fluoroscope machine. If the metal detector sounds an alarm, prospective visitors might face a “pat frisk” search.
To perform a pat frisk, the Correction Officer stands behind the visitor and asks the visitor to raise his/her arms. Then, the officer runs his/her thumbs under the visitor’s collar, runs his/her hands across the top of the visitor’s arms, comes back under the visitors’ arms to the armpits and down the visitor’s sides to the waist. The officer then runs his/her finger around the visitor’s waistband, runs his/her hands down the outside of the visitor’s legs and up the inside of the visitor’s legs to and including the crotch. The officer then reaches around and pats the visitor’s chest and back and checks any remaining pockets. In conduct a pat risk, officers shall strive to preserve the dignity of the visitor being searched.
That’s not what happened when Jasmine Quattlebaum paid a visit to Rikers Island. After consenting to a pat frisk search through signing off on a form, Jasmine was led to a private area by a female CO who asked her during the pat frisk to unbutton her pants. What happened next went beyond standard visit procedures. Normal people refer to it as sexual assault.
“Once I put my hands back up, she pulled my panties out, takes her two fingers, and just jams it in between my crotch,” she said of the officer. “My reaction — I slapped her hand away a little bit, like, where’s the privacy?” Though Quattlebaum visited Rikers every week, “I’d never been through this before.” When she objected, she said, the officer “tried to pull both of my hands together with one hand, and she tried to still put her fingers into my crotch” with the other.
No justification existed for this cavity search. Nothing on the paperwork for Quattlebaum’s subsequent arrest* suggested anyone had even “reasonable suspicion” to believe Jasmine attempted to smuggle contraband into Rikers. Yet her experience is one many female Rikers visitors experience, according to information from 311 complaint calls obtained by The Intercept.
Visitors subject to these intrusive search procedures apparently fear that if they don’t comply, they will lose their chance at seeing a loved one. Their fears are well-founded. According to the Inmate Visit Procedures manual, refusal to participate in a pat frisk means your options for a visit are limited to non-contact only. The alternative is to leave Rikers, never seeing the inmate you came to visit in the first place. “Consent” to rape or no visitation is a horrendous quandary in which to find yourself.
Perhaps this is why numerous civil suits are pending against Rikers corrections officers. Their official response is unsurprising. People are bringing baseless litigation to get rid of good corrections officers.
Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, believes that visitors’ complaints about inappropriate searches are overblown and in fact represent an effort to oust correction officers who are particularly good at keeping contraband out of jail facilities.
“These allegations are nothing new to correction officers,” Husamudeen said. “Usually they are made by visitors and inmates against officers who are very diligent and thorough at doing their job and end up catching them or the inmates trying to bring in contraband. One of the ways that inmates and visitors have always tried to deal with this is by alleging that the correction officer did something wrong, and sometimes the agency would remove that particular correction officer from his or her post.”
Job security doesn’t give a CO a pass to rape someone visiting Rikers. A signature on a consent form doesn’t give a person permission to jam their fingers into sensitive areas. And the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure still apply to those visiting friends, family, and loved ones at Rikers Island.
The evidence suggests a pattern of sanctioned rape at the hands of Rikers Island corrections officers. Increased complaints and civil litigation shows the need for official action, although Rikers is already under the Department of Justice consent decree and federal monitor (not that it prevented this from happening). The big crack in the criminal justice system here lies at the entry to Rikers Island, where female visitors face the choice of non-contact visits or rape.
*The CO claimed she “put her hands” on her, and Jasmine Quattlebaum was arrested and charged in the Bronx with obstructing governmental administration and harassment for trying to prevent herself from being raped.
The criminal complaint against Quattlebaum does not accuse her of attempting to bring any contraband into the jail complex. Based on the officer’s account, it says the woman “felt a large bulge through defendant’s pants around defendant’s vaginal area.” When the officer touched the area, according to the complaint, Quattlebaum pushed her, after which the officer “felt threatened and experienced annoyance, alarm, and fear for her physical safety.”
The charges are still pending.