Updated | The New York City jail guard walked up to the door of the Rikers Island shower stall and opened the door. The handcuffed inmate inside the shower, Adnan Masoud, stood still for a moment and then the guard, Rodiny Calypso, punched Masoud hard in the face. Over the following 20 seconds, the guard punched the inmate twice more in the face, then landed three swift uppercuts, locked the restrained man in a headlock and finally elbowed him five times before another guard arrived. In surveillance video of the attack, Masoud appears to offer no resistance as blows rain down on his head.
Soon after the attack, Calypso told a Rikers captain that when he opened the shower in order to take Masoud back to his cell that February 2014 day, the inmate spat on his left shoulder so he was forced to use an “upper-body control hold” in an attempt to grapple the inmate down to the floor—and he didn't mention any punches or elbow strikes. (Three other inmates who watched the incident told investigators they didn't see Masoud spit on Calypso.) And when Calypso filled out a “use of force” report the following day, he lied about the attack, according to federal prosecutors, writing that he hit Masoud only in the “upper torso” area and leaving out the closed-fist punches he delivered to the inmate’s head while holding him in a headlock.
Federal prosecutors later indicted Calypso with several charges related to the assault—violating the inmate’s civil rights, obstruction of justice and filing a false report—and on Wednesday a jury in Manhattan federal court found the guard guilty of the false report and not guilty of the other two charges.
“Prisoners at Rikers Island have the same constitutional rights we all enjoy, and corrections officers do not have the right to abuse inmates in their custody and care,” acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in a statement Thursday. “Rodiny Calypso’s lies about his use of force undermined the investigation into his brutal beating of a handcuffed, defenseless inmate.” Under NYC Department of Corrections rules, when a restrained inmate is still dangerous to himself and others, force is to be used as a last resort, Kim's office said in a press release.
The defense attorney who represented Calypso says the guard was reacting to Masoud’s aggression—the alleged spit—and that he punched the inmate to protect himself. “The jury felt that he was a professional who was doing his job under very strenuous circumstances,” attorney Joey Jackson tells Newsweek, noting that many Rikers guards have been slashed and hurt by violent inmates. “It was a reaction to what my client perceived as worse to come.”
Calypso’s conviction comes as many New York City politicians agree that Rikers Island should be closed. A report from an independent commission tasked with studying the problem called Rikers a “stain on the city” in March and described the harm the obsolete facility does to correction officers working in dangerous conditions, the approximately 10,000 inmates imprisoned there on an average day and the taxpayers who cough up billions to fund the facility.
The report also recommended the facility be replaced with smaller facilities in each of the city’s five boroughs, saying, “Put simply, Rikers Island is a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem,” and raised the issue of race, noting that 89 percent of Rikers’s inmates are black or Hispanic, and that the burden of incarceration falls mainly on those minority communities.
Under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the DOC has begun offering more officer training to reduce violence, with "Uses of Force" that result in serious injury down by about 50 percent over the past three years, a spokesman said in an email. "The vast majority of our hardworking staff carry out their duties with care, honor, and the highest levels of professionalism. The actions of this one officer do not reflect the entire department," spokesman Peter Thorne said in an emailed statement.
Calypso, who was suspended from the DOC after he was arrested and will be fired now that he's been convicted, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced November 30, though it is unlikely he’ll receive that harsh a punishment. Masoud is serving a 15-year-sentence for manslaughter in a New York state prison not far from the Canadian border.
This story was updated to include comments from the NYC Department of Corrections.
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