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Rikers Island Corrections Officer Forced to Work Dangerous Post Despite Injury, Lawsuit Alleges

By John Annese
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A Rikers Island guard says the city’s Department of Corrections forced him to work in a position where he came into contact with aggressive inmates despite a serious knee injury — then hit him with baseless disciplinary charges when he complained.

IN federal lawsuit In a motion filed last month, prison officer Ronald Reid alleges that in 2020 he injured his knee during a scuffle with an inmate and that when he returned to work, a supervisor ignored his condition and assigned him a dangerous task even though he was not supposed to have contact with prisoners.

Reid was injured again after another fight with inmates, tearing ligaments and cartilage and requiring more surgery.

“He came back. He wanted to work. He didn’t want to stay home. But because he came back, he’s more damaged now. He’s worse off now,” said his attorney, Jacqueline McMickens.

The lawyer herself is a former prison officer who made history in the 1980s as first black woman appointed commissioner of corrections.

“You can’t guarantee that prisoners won’t do what prisoners do. But you can guarantee that an officer won’t get hurt by making sure he doesn’t have contact,” McMickens said. “There’s a rule for that. That rule was violated.”

According to the lawsuit, Reid had just three years of experience and was assigned to The Tombs Hospital in Manhattan on July 31, 2020, when he was first injured.

According to the lawsuit, he and six other prison guards were ordered to take the inmate out of his cell, but the inmate refused to come out, pouring water on the floor and a mop at the guards.

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Reid slipped in the water and fell, injuring his right knee, hip and shoulder, he claims. He ultimately needed knee surgery and was placed on limited duty after the injury, meaning he was not supposed to have contact with other inmates.

Reid says he was still on limited duty in March 2022 when he was assigned to Otis Bantum Correctional Center on Rikers Island.

The lawsuit alleges he told his superior, Capt. Akilah Biggs, that he should not have contact with the detainees, but she assigned him to a position where he had to deal with them anyway, despite his protests.

During a shift on March 16, 2022, he had to let several detainees into the pantry for a drink of water, but they wouldn’t come out, leading to a scuffle, he said. One of them slammed the door on his good knee. Despite complaints of pain, Reid was sent to check on the detainees again and was told to let them into the pantry. He slipped on milk and water on the floor and injured his lower back, he said.

The injuries were serious enough to require medical attention, but a month later he was sent back to the same position, threatened with disciplinary action and forced to work 16-hour shifts, he said.

He filed an equal employment opportunity complaint and was charged internally two months later with falsifying dates on forms for two medical appointments in 2021.

Those charges were dismissed last year after an administrative judge ruled that a department investigator he didn’t do the complete job checks to see if the forms were legal. Reid accuses the department of filing charges and repeatedly placing him in positions where he had contact with detainees, even after he was injured a second time, as a form of retaliation.

A Department of Corrections spokesman declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Reid’s injuries occurred during Rikers Island Staffing Crisis In 2021 and 2022, hundreds of officers abused the Department of Corrections’ sick leave policy by calling in to work and not staying home when required.

“I understand they were desperate, but you have to be careful about the exposure you give your staff. … You can’t hire someone who can’t hire a staff,” McMickens said. “Just follow the rules. The people who put that in place were smart.”

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