Six female corrections officers were arrested and arraigned in New York State Supreme Court following allegations they performed illegal strip searches on women attempting to visit their loved ones in a Manhattan jail.
The New York Times, quoting the 27-count indictment, reports corrections officers “blocked exits, surrounded visitors on all sides, forcibly removed visitors’ clothing, including underwear, touched visitors’ breasts, examined visitors’ vaginal and buttocks areas, forced visitors to squat without pants or underwear, and forced visitors onto the floor.”
The searches were also conducted under false pretenses, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office says, with officers forcing visitors to sign consent forms and subsequently filing false paperwork to cover up their illegal searches.
The indictment, unveiled Monday, centers on the experiences of five women visitors to the Manhattan Detention Complex, a jail that has earned the nickname “the Tombs,” according to the Times.
The searches described in the indictment would not only be a flagrant violation of the city’s policies regarding inmate visits, but are part of a long string of accusations alleging corrections officers routinely perform illegal strip searches on women visiting New York City’s jails.
As the Times reports, city policy says jails must get written permission to search visitors they suspect of smuggling contraband in to inmates. Once visitors sign a consent form, corrections officers may “pat frisk” them, but this is limited to patting down outer clothing; requesting outerwear like coats, hats, and shoes be removed; and searching seams and pockets.
“If visitors do not want to be searched, they can leave voluntarily; correction officers can also offer them a visit in which they have no physical contact with the prisoner or deny them a visit outright,” writes the Times.
The city has been hit with dozens of lawsuits filed by women who say they were illegally searched and abused by corrections officers, subjected to humiliating cavity checks when all they had consented to was a “pat frisk.”
In the indictment handed down this week, prosecutors noted three of the five visitors subjected to illegal searches were found smuggling in contraband (marijuana, Xanax and tobacco), and were arrested as a result.
Five corrections officers were charged with official misconduct, unlawful imprisonment and conspiracy: Alifa Waiters, Daphne Farmer, Jennifer George, Lisette Rodriguez, and Latoya Shuford. A retired correction captain, Leslie-Ann Absalom, was also charged. They all pleaded not guilty and were released without bail.
In a separate investigation done by NBC 4 New York last year, one woman described being so traumatized by a strip search that she refused to go back to the jail. Corrections officers performing the illegal search threatened to call child protective services on the woman if she complained, she says.
“By the time she was finished touching the top, like my breasts weren’t even in my bra. My bra was all the way up to my neck,” the woman said. “She (the officer), went in, she went inside, she moved around, touched my private area. And I just had to stand there. I was in shock.”