COs Acquitted of Beating Inmate At Rikers and Then Attempting Cover-Up

March 10, 2014

A Bronx judge last week acquitted two Correction Officers charged with beating an inmate who was at the center of an alleged work stoppage by the Correction Officers Benevolent Association in November.
State Supreme Court Justice George Villegas declared Louis Pinto Jr. not guilty of assaulting a prisoner, and found both Mr. Pinto and Kevin Gilkes not guilty of 17 other charges, most involving falsifying reports.

‘Justice System Worked’

Justice Villegas, who decided the case instead of a jury, did not explain the reasons for his decision, said Mr. Gilkes’s attorney, Peter Troxler of Koehler and Isaacs. But, he said, “The justice system worked the way it should.”

Mr. Troxler said the verdict ended a period of “substantial hardships that nearly caused complete financial insolvency” for the two men, who were suspended without pay. He said they were looking forward to getting back to work.

Mr. Gilkes was charged with shoving inmate Dapree Peterson, 21, into a wall and then hitting him while Mr. Pinto watched. Mr. Pinto and Mr. Gilkes then filed reports saying that Mr. Peterson had threatened them by stepping forward aggressively, that Mr. Gilkes defended himself and that the two of them guided Mr. Peterson to the floor.

Prosecutors presented a video they said showed Mr. Gilkes attacking Mr. Peterson. Mr. Troxler said Judge Villegas had clearly taken an different interpretation from the video.

He said Mr. Peterson, who had been previously arrested in a dozen violent felonies and was nicknamed “Terror,” had told a fellow inmate he was going to stage an incident that would enable him to sue the city. When he eventually reached the courtroom, Mr. Peterson testified that Mr. Gilkes had hit him in the face after he requested that his handcuffs be loosened.

Union Assails DOC

The inmate is in Rikers awaiting trial on charges that he robbed and knifed a subway rider.
Norman Seabrook, president of COBA, used Judge Villegas’s decision as a vehicle to criticize the Department of Correction.

“This is indicative of the way the New York City Department of Correction continues to use Correction Officers as scapegoats for their shortcomings,” he said in a statement. “We applaud the judge’s decision and commend the legal system for its accuracy in interpreting the law. Hopefully, now these Correction Officers that have been vindicated can get back to a normal life after the complete embarrassment that the managers at the Department of Correction have put them through.”

Wouldn’t Take Him to Court

Mr. Peterson was aboard a bus on Rikers Island Nov. 18 for a trip to testify in the trial of Mr. Gilkes and Mr.Pinto when Correction Officers refused to drive any of the 33 buses taking inmates to court and medical visits, saying various defects made them unsafe to use. Court proceedings were delayed around the city.

The Bloomberg administration filed suit against the union a week later, charging that Mr. Seabrook and COBA’s executive board had led the COs in an illegal job action. “[D]efendants’ action to remove necessary buses from the fleet for was a subterfuge intended to protest the prosecution of other Correction Officers for illegal activity,” according to the suit.

The union has not commented beyond saying Nov. 26 that it was investigating the matter. “We are confident that when completed, our investigation will establish that the city’s allegations as set out in their complaint are entirely without merit and baseless,” COBA said.

Mr. Troxler detailed the hardships Mr. Gilkes and Mr. Pinto had faced while suspended. “Employment while suspended with an open felony criminal case presented nearly insurmountable obstacles for employment for both men,” he said.

Financial Hardships

Mr. Gilkes did find a job as a driver for a rental-car company, but it paid only one-sixth of his salary as a CO, Mr. Troxler said. As a result, the lawyer said, he was unable to pay some debts or contribute to the costs of educating two children.

“Louis Pinto’s hardship was even more pronounced, and had to rely on his extended family to make ends meet, straining the family beyond anything it had known,” Mr. Troxler said.

Mr. Gilkes and Mr. Pinto were advised by their attorneys not to speak to the media.