Correction Officer Elio Soto claims he was subjected to a series of searches by his supervisors while on the job, including a squat-and-cough test to see if he was carrying drugs. Soto says that none were found and that his car was also searched.

BY GINGER OTIS ADAMS / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
PUBLISHED: WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 2013

Elio Soto, a correction officer on Rikers Island, is suing after he claims he was subjected to a humiliating strip search by his supervisors, where he was forced to squat and cough for a cavity inspection because they suspected him of smuggling contraband into the facility.

A man claims he was subjected to a series of searches on Rikers Island, including a humiliating naked probe during which he was ordered to squat and cough.

But what makes this allegation unusual is that the man being searched for drugs is a city correction officer. And the people doing the searching were his supervisors.

“I’m an officer, not an inmate, but they treated me like I was one,” said Correction Officer Elio Soto, a soft-spoken father of three with five years on the job.

Soto, 35, plans to file a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, accusing four supervisors of forcing him into “debasing and illegal” contraband searches while he was on duty Jan. 17. Nothing was found.

“I was upset and embarrassed,” said Soto, who joined the Correction Department in 2008.
Robin Campbell, a Correction Department spokesman, confirmed there was a “staff” search in January, but said it was within the agency’s rights.
 

Soto said that his supervisors also search for contraband in his car, but that tthe search came up empty.

“It was based on reasonable suspicion and sound legal authority and was done in a careful manner that fully respected the rights of all involved,” Campbell said.

The alleged violators include a warden, two captains and an assistant deputy warden, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Daily News.

According to Soto’s complaint, his troubles started during a routine search of inmate jail cells around 4:30 p.m. at the Anna Kross Center on Rikers. One of the supervisors working with drug-sniffing dogs said the pooch reacted to Soto. The correction officer was asked if he had contraband. He told a supervisor that he did not.

Soto was told to empty his pockets, which contained nothing but a small tube of prescribed non-narcotic ointment for a fungal infection, Soto said.

When the inmate searches were done at 8 p.m., Soto was brought to the warden’s office and again asked to empty his pockets, the complaint says. When that failed to produce contraband, the supervisors brought the dogs back in and searched him twice more, Soto said.
 
'First, I wanted to show that I was innocent. I was doing nothing wrong,' Soto said. 'But second, if you say no to an order it’s an automatic suspension.'

They found nothing — but instead of letting him go, supervisors ordered him to strip, the complaint says.

“I asked the captain if he’d ever done this to a correction officer before, because he’s been on the job a long time, and he said no,” Soto recalled.

Soto was told to squat and cough to show he wasn’t hiding anything in his rectum. He was allowed to get dressed and leave only after a search of his car. Supervisors again found nothing.

The searches violate his Fourth Amendment rights, which guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, according to Soto’s attorney, Howard Wien.

Union officials were outraged.

“I have never had someone take one of my members into the warden’s office in front of captains and tell them to take off his clothes,” said Norman Seabrook, head of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association. “It is unacceptable.”

Soto, who earns $80,000 a year, said he didn’t think he could say no to the searches.

“First, I wanted to show that I was innocent. I was doing nothing wrong, but second, if you say no to an order it’s an automatic suspension,” he said. “I can’t lose this job. I have a family to feed!"