EXCLUSIVE: Rikers inmates smuggle shivs ‘up their a--’ as political spats keep body scanners turned off

By: 
REUVEN BLAU & STEPHEN REX BROWN

CLICK HERE FOR REUVEN BLAU INTERVIEW BY CURTIS SLIWA

A gruesome video filmed on Rikers Island captured prisoners slashing an inmate in the face and back — and then stashing encased scalpels inside their rectums.

Jail insiders say the footage of the unprovoked attack underscores the urgent need for airport-style body scanners in city jails. But in a frustrating twist, officials say six “ionizing” body scanners are collecting dust in storage because of a state law preventing their use. They were purchased in 2012 and 2013 at a cost of $1 million.

Efforts to change the law have dragged on since at least 2014 with advocates expressing concern about the radiation emitted by the devices. Others have raised issues about the training of the operators of the machines.

City officials say the scanners are a necessary tool in an effort to protect inmates and staff.

“Authorizing the use of ionizing body scanners that can more effectively find contraband that non-ionizing scanners cannot ... continues to be a priority for the administration,” City Hall spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas said. “We are in active conversations with the state legislature on the enactment of legislation that would permit these scanners to operate in correctional facilities across New York State.”

The video obtained by the Daily News shows two inmates slicing the victim, Ernest Jones, 34, in the George R. Vierno law library on Jan. 18 at 8:48 a.m. As Jones scrambles for help, video shows as many as four inmates putting their hands down their pants, apparently hiding weapons after the attack.

Jail officials suspect they were stashing weapons in their keisters.

“Look how the inmates put the scalpels up their a--,” said a jail source who reviewed the video. “Don’t shake inmates’ hands anymore.”

Jones, awaiting trial on a drug-related murder charge in Brooklyn, suffered a 5-inch cut to the face and an 8-inch cut in the back, records obtained by the Daily News show. He was treated at Bellevue Hospital.

While as many as four inmates may have been involved, sources identified the attackers as Bloods gang members Michael Walcott and Ramsey Faisal. Both are likely to face charges in the attack, the sources added.

Walcott, 38, was charged in 2014 along with 62 other people in a robbery, murder and drug conspiracy in the Bronx. Prosecutors said he stole scalpels from St. Luke’s Hospital where he worked as a janitor and had women sneak them into jail. The weapons ended up in the hands of fellow gang members, according to a PIX-11 report.

Faisal, 20, was one of 37 gang members busted in a 2015 takedown in the Bronx. He was charged with robbery, weapons possession and attempted murder conspiracy.

While City Hall seeks to get approval for use of the ionizing machines, the Department of Correction is forking out $1.4 million for eight new scanners that don’t emit radiation.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said City Hall isn’t doing enough.

“The ask needs to come from the city. This needs to become a priority. Nothing is going on,” said Crowley, who chairs the criminal justice committee.

State Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried confirmed talks were underway with City Hall.

“It’s my understanding that the city is working on new language rather than requesting re-introduction of the previous version of the bill,” Gottfried said. “We will review their proposal whenever it’s ready.”

Assemblyman Joe Lentol — who chairs the Codes Committee that also has oversight of the law — sounded a note of caution about the machines.

“We’re concerned about contraband in prisons, but we don’t want to hurt people unnecessarily with body scans,” he said.

Meanwhile, slashings in city jails spiked from 131 in 2015 to 155 in 2016 — an 18% increase.

Officials say scalpels are a weapon of choice at Rikers because the blades can easily be covered with the plastic cap of a pen and then hidden in an inmate’s rear.

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark recently testified that a box of 100 scalpel blades can be bought online for $10. The blades sell for $50 each inside Rikers. They are smuggled in through visitors and crooked correction officers, jail insiders say.

The scanners would be a major line of defense against the blades, Darcel said.

“Investigators simply cannot uncover items smuggled into facilities without the proper technology at their disposal,” she told the City Council.

Inmates at Rikers do not submit to cavity searches before entering the jail, making the need for the scanners all the more urgent, officials say.

But they can be strip searched if there’s reasonable cause, according to jail guidelines.

Former Correction Commissioner Michael Jacobson said the sophisticated x-ray body scanners would help, but they’re not a cure-all.

“Violence isn’t the kind of thing where one piece of technology is going to take care of it,” said Jacobson, who ran the city jails from 1996 to 1998.

Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen says the scanners would help but also cautioned more needs to be done to stem violence.

“Violence is high because unfortunately other than getting rearrested if inmates indulge in bad behavior there are no other consequences,” he said, referring to a 2016 citywide ban on the use of solitary confinement for teens.

A DOC spokeswoman noted that weapons seizures were up 37% last year. Correction officers found 2,862 weapons in 2015 and 3,917 weapons in 2016. Meanwhile, serious injuries to inmates from assaults are down 8%. The ionzing scanners would help the fight against contraband.

Crowley remains skeptical.

“People are getting hurt and the violence is going up, no matter what the administration would like the public to believe,” she said.

“It’s really sad when you have this administration pretending they’re going to bring changes to bring about a safer environment when they’re not doing anything.”