The city Correction Department failed to provide medical chaperones to accompany female detainees during medical visits to protect them from possible assaults, a federal lawsuit charges.
Correction officers repeatedly told the female inmates that there were no escorts available inside the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island, according to the Manhattan Federal lawsuit filed on Monday.
That’s in direct violation of a department policy enacted in 2010 requiring chaperones for every “intimate examination,” the suit contends.
The policy was created “to safeguard patients from potential abuse and to safeguard providers from false allegations of abuse,” according to the directive.
The defendant, listed as K.A. to protect her identity, says she was repeatedly denied a chaperone during her stay on Rikers from Sept. 18, 2017 until April 11, 2018. She was in jail facing grand larceny charges.
“It happened over and over again,” the 48-year-old told the Daily News, noting she declined at least six possible doctor examinations because of a lack of a chaperone.
Outside of jail, patients are always entitled to an added person in the room during medical exams, she added.
“It’s like you are a zoo animal” in jail, she charged. “There’s nothing I could do about it. It’s like you are stripped of all your rights.”
She needed a doctor to examine her left arm which had undergone reconstructive surgery in 2010. The medical visit would entail an intimate exam because she had to remove her shirt to give the doctor complete access to the area, she added.
The lawsuit is seeking class action status.
Lawyer Phillip Hines, who is handling the case, said he has been contacted by “dozens” of other female inmates who have had similar experiences.
“The policy is designed to protect women from potential sexual exploitations,” Hines said. “They are either setting women up to be sexually abused or delay medical care. You shouldn’t have to choose between those two things.”
The suit wants “compensatory and punitive damages” for each defendant to be decided at trial.
“These prisoners, on occasion, refused medical examinations, thus causing their condition to deteriorate and them to suffer physical injuries, emotional distress, and other damages,” the suit says.
K.A. knows first hand the dangers of meeting alone with medical staff on Rikers. She says she was assaulted by a physician’s assistant during a prior stint on Rikers.
In April 2017, Sidney Wilson, that medical staffer, was charged with sexually assaulting K.A. and three other inmates between October 2013 and December 2014.
Wilson contends the women are lying and has pleaded not guilty. The case appears to be pending.
But K.A. says Wilson plied her with candy, cigarettes and chicken wings if she agreed to show him her vagina or let him touch her sexually.
“These types of occurrences leave deep scars that never go away,” she said. “You feel inadequate or insecure or unworthy. You go through a lot of anguish.”
Wilson also allegedly gave her prescription medications, like a muscle relaxant and a seizure drug, to sell to other inmates.
He’s not the only Rikers doctor who was accused of sexually assaulting inmates.
In July 2010, Dr. Franck Leveille was charged with sexually abusing a female inmate. He fled to Haiti before trial after he was released on bail.
A survey conducted by the Department of Justice found that 8.6% of the women locked up on Rikers covering 2011-12 said they were sexually victimized in the past year. By comparison, 3.2% of women nationally made similar allegations.
The city’s Law Department is reviewing the complaint and declined to comment about the pending litigation.