Three New York City correction officers were charged with lying about being sick and taking leave for more than a year, in the midst of a severe staffing emergency that helped put the city’s jails into a crisis of violence. The charges, filed Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn, were one of the first direct actions that federal law enforcement officials have taken to address the chronic staffing problems and reported corruption plaguing the Rikers Island jail complex, which has been dealing with a crisis of absenteeism since the beginning of last year, reports the New York Times. About one in three jailers failed to show up for work each day as of late January, a federal monitor overseeing the jail complex reported The wave of staff absenteeism that allowed violence to run unchecked at Rikers.
In the past two years, the staffing crisis in the jails has contributed to a growing death toll — the highest in nearly a decade — and the officers who have shown up to work often end up in dangerous situations. So far this year, 18 people have died in the city’s jails or soon after being released. Officers Steven Cange, Monica Coaxum and Eduardo Trinidad were charged with federal program fraud — cheating an organization that receives federal funds — in two separate criminal complaints. Cange, prosecutors said, claimed to be on sick leave as he was working on his personal passion: comic book publishing. Coaxum and her fiancé, Trinidad, took vacations and completed home improvement projects while claiming to be too injured to work, according to the criminal complaint. All three used forged or altered notes from doctors and physical therapists to support their claims for leave, prosecutors said.