By MARK TOOR
Victor Maldonado Sr. was devastated when his 17-year-old son, Victor Jr., was shot to death in 2007 by a man who believed the teenager was sleeping with his girlfriend.
As horrifying as the murder of a child is, Mr. Maldonado’s occupation put him under even greater strain. He is a Correction Captain and was assigned to the Chief’s Office in Riker’s Island when the murder suspect, Paul Colon, was brought to the jail complex.
‘I Tried to Stay Away’
“I tried to stay away,” he said in an interview. “I didn’t want to get in trouble with the higher-ups. I tried to stay away from dealing with this guy at all.”
Mr. Colon, 26, was involved in one use-of-force incident. “They tried to avoid all situations with him,” Mr. Maldonado said. “We didn’t want it to get back that we were retaliating against him. He’d go into court and say I tried to poison him, that he wasn’t getting food because of me.” Mr. Colon “also threatened me and my family in open court,” said Mr. Maldonado, a 22-year Correction veteran.
Mr. Maldonado’s case was the kind of problem city Correction Commissioner Dora B. Schriro had in mind when she created a bill of rights for staff members whose relatives are crime victims or who become victims of crimes themselves. It is the only such policy in the country specifically established for a corrections workforce, said Department of Correction spokesman Robin Campbell.
“The Crime Victims Bill of Rights for the Department of Correction Workforce is a way for us to take care of our own staff while they take care of criminals on behalf of New York City,” Ms. Schriro said.
Struggling with Trauma
According to a statement announcing the policy, “The new bill of rights recognizes that many DOC staff face the complex challenge of carrying out their duty—the care, custody and control of people incarcerated for criminal acts—even as they struggle with their own experience of having been victimized by crime and when the perpetrator of the crime could well be in the department’s custody.” The announcement April 23 came during a candlelight vigil at Rikers Island in recognition of National Crime Victims Rights Week.
'Dignity and Respect'
The bill of rights, developed with employee input gathered from an online survey and focus groups, states that victimized staffers will be “treated with dignity and respect by the department and all of its employees.”
It guarantees assistance in obtaining counseling and other aid from DOC; support for the exercise of the employee’s legal rights; a sympathetic ear for requests regarding workplace accommodations; permission to use leave for medical care, counseling or other matters related to the crime; protection when appropriate and practical; news about the suspect’s movements within the jails; and “consideration to retain your personal-protection firearm.”
“I think it’s wonderful,” Mr. Maldonado said of the new policy. “I didn’t have any of that.” What he did have, he said, was support from a handful of colleagues who urged him to return to work rather than sit home and dwell on his son’s murder. “Idle time is not good time,” he said.
“This is long overdue,” agreed Norman Seabrook, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association. “We have been advocating for years that Correction Officers who are victimized on or off duty, need to have their rights protected at all times.”
Mr. Maldonado, who spoke May 1 hours after Mr. Colon was sentenced to 40 years for the murder of Victor Maldonado Jr., said the killer was initially sent to other jails, first in Orange County, then in Yonkers, then in a couple of other jurisdictions outside the city. He created disturbances in each jail. “No one else wanted him, so they sent him back to Rikers Island,” Mr. Maldonado said.
'Very, Very Erratic'
“He was a mess,” Mr. Maldonado said of Mr. Colon during the nearly five years he spent at Rikers. “He told us he wasn’t supposed to be there. He acted very, very erratically. People complained that he would expose himself.”
Mr. Maldonado said he experienced “a multitude of feelings. I was happy that he was in jail. I was angry at what he did and how he was trying to get over on the system.”
Mr. Colon spent most of his time at Rikers in a mental-health unit rather than in punitive segregation. Until he was transferred out of the Chief’s Office a few months ago, Mr. Maldonado had authority over segregation. Mr. Colon remains in segregation while he awaits his transfer to a prison upstate.
Mr. Maldonado said he feels somewhat better since the sentencing of his son’s murderer. “I’d go to bed at 3 a.m. and wake up at 4 since he was killed,” the Captain said. “Now that he’s sentenced, I’m able to get some sleep at night.”