The young inmates were taken by van from a jail on Rikers Island in New York City to an airfield hours north of the city. There, the abuse started almost immediately, according to a federal lawsuit filed on Friday.
A dozen correction officers from a county jail led them inside a building and into metal cages. They would issue deliberately confusing commands and when the inmates failed to comply, the guards would pummel and kick them, use their Taser guns, and shove their fingers and batons into their rectums.
“This is not Rikers,’’ the guards shouted before sending the inmates to solitary confinement at the jail, the Albany County Correctional Facility.
The abuse was designed for inmates from Rikers who had been accused of assaulting correction officers, according to the suit, which was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan by three inmates and another young man who had been held in the Albany jail.
The lawsuit comes five months after a New York Times investigation found that New York City had increased the number of young inmates transferred to correctional facilities elsewhere in the state since 2015, when the city banned solitary for inmates younger than 22 and limited it for others.
While New York has long had the power to transfer inmates, defense lawyers and inmate advocates criticized the increase as an end-run around the city’s own rules, adding that it undermined Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to reform the criminal justice system.
In many cases, inmates sent away from New York City have been accused of assaulting guards and are transferred in part because their safety cannot be ensured.
But the lawsuit, filed against the city, Albany County officials and individual correction officers, said that the inmates’ constitutional rights were violated when they were sent upstate without any regard for their welfare, and that the men were systematically targeted for brutal treatment carried out by high-ranking correction staff.
“The lawsuit will reveal that the city knows what’s going on and condones it,” said Katherine Rosenfeld, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, who are represented by two private law firms. “They keep putting people in the van and sending them up there.”
A spokesman for the mayor, Eric Phillips, did not respond directly to the accusations of abuse. In a statement, Mr. Phillips said, “For an extremely small number of young detainees facing credible safety threats in our jails, the safest option is a transfer to another facility.”
The Albany County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The inmates’ situation was exacerbated when they were sent to solitary confinement, the suit claimed. Isolation increases the risk of depression or suicide, especially among younger inmates.
The city’s jail reforms were inspired, in part, Mr. de Blasio said, by Kalief Browder, a teenager who committed suicide after spending much of his three years at Rikers in solitary confinement before robbery charges against him were dropped.
Hundreds of inmates have been kept out of isolation since the city implemented its ban on solitary confinement for young people and reduced its use for other inmates. Still, the transfer of inmates to outside jails seems to highlight the limitations of the ban.
Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were 19 and 21 when they were transferred to Albany. The other two were older than 22. One of the plaintiffs is identified only as John Doe because he fears retaliation by correction workers.
One of the plaintiffs, Davon Washington, who is now 22, said in an interview at his home in the Bronx that he wrote the mayor and provided a detailed account of the abuse, and asked to be transferred elsewhere. He said he never received a response.
Mr. Washington was transferred from Rikers Island to the Albany facility in March, two weeks after he said he got into an altercation with a city deputy warden. He was there until November and released from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in Albany on Monday. He had been convicted of attempted robbery.
“I’ve been trying to forget about Albany,” he said.
Like each of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Mr. Washington said during the interview and in the lawsuit that in Albany, he was forced to follow a series of commands. The moment he made a mistake, he was repeatedly punched in the face and then stomped by multiple correction officers.
He said there was a lieutenant who led the attacks and directed the officers while a superintendent watched. The officers accused him of hiding contraband in his body, but he said he did not have anything on him. He said a correction officer inserted two fingers into his rectum. He said he was taken to a body scanner designed to detect contraband stored in a person’s body.
At one point, a nurse asked if he had any injuries. When he said he did, he was punched in the face.
Mr. Washington, who was handcuffed and shackled, was eventually placed in isolation. While inside the small cell, he said, the officers attacked him again. After the beating, he was bleeding, his tooth was chipped, his lip was split, and he had bruises all over his body. During the attacks, he said, he thought he was going to die.
He received an infraction ticket for trying to assault an officer, which he said was a bogus claim. At a disciplinary hearing, he was sentenced to 360 days in isolation and denied phone privileges for a month.
“I was losing my mind doing the same thing over and over again,” Mr. Washington said.
He said he was beaten again in October, after correction officers learned he had met with lawyers about his allegations of abuse.
“The city failed to investigate or remediate these conditions and has continued sending detainees, including many aged 21 and younger, to the Albany County Jail without notice or hearing, to be beaten and put in solitary confinement,” the lawsuit said.
The other plaintiffs include Pariis Tillery, 25, and Steven Espinal, 19. Mr. Espinal was one of four inmates charged with gang assault for the attack on Rikers Island correction officer Jean Souffrant, which was captured on video. The attack left the officer’s spine fractured.
Mr. Espinal said he was beaten in Albany, lost hearing in his left ear, and passed blood in his urine after the attacks. He was hospitalized and sentenced to 600 days in solitary confinement.
“They would say these are violent kids. These kids have done — some of them — very violent things. They’re human,” said Steven Goldman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, adding that correction staff “attach blame and now it’s open season.”
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