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Excessive Force Cover-ups Common In New York Prisons

Cover-ups of excessive force are commonplace across New York State’s prison system, finds a Marshall Project review of thousands of pages of court documents, arbitration records and officer disciplinary data. Guards often work in groups to conceal violent assaults by lying to investigators, and then they file charges against their victims and have them sent to solitary. The Marshall Project obtained disciplinary data on more than 290 cases in which the corrections department tried to fire guards or supervisors accused of abusing prisoners. In nearly three-quarters of those cases, the agency accused the officers of covering up misconduct, often acting in concert. The department tried to discipline guards for incidents in which one or more were accused of committing abuse while others lied to hide it, bringing a case about every two months over 12 years. Few of the accused officers were fired, though many were suspended for several months.

The corrections department did not try to discipline officers in 88 percent of lawsuits involving excessive-force incidents that the state lost or settled in the decade ending in 2020. In some cases, prisoners were permanently injured or even killed. Half of the roughly 160 lawsuits complain of guards retaliating against the incarcerated people they injured. A former New York corrections commissioner, Brian Fischer, called the culture of officers covering up one another’s misconduct the “blue wall” — and said it is deeply rooted in the workplace. Records show that even when the corrections department attempted to fire officers for excessive force or for lying about it, the agency succeeded just 10% of the time.


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