March 4, 2014

Two Rikers Island guards accused of assaulting a prisoner and covering up their actions were found not guilty Monday on all charges, after a trial that escalated tensions between the city and the correction officers’ union.

The guards, Louis Pinto Jr. and Kevin Gilkes, who chose to be tried by a judge rather than by a jury, were cleared of all charges stemming from what prosecutors said was an assault of a prisoner, Dapree Peterson, on Dec. 3, 2011.

Judge George Villegas of Bronx Supreme Court found Mr. Pinto not guilty of assault of a prisoner, and found both officers not guilty of 17 other charges, including official misconduct and falsifying a report.

“The justice system worked the way it should,” said Peter C. Troxler, Mr. Gilkes’s attorney. “I just wish it had happened quicker.”

The trial took an unexpected turn when Mr. Peterson failed to show up in court on Nov. 18 to testify against the officers. Correction officers had halted prisoner transports that day, claiming a wave of safety problems with the buses that usually ferried defendants between Rikers and the courts.

Mr. Peterson finally appeared in court the next afternoon, after which the judge suspended the trial for two weeks.

Dozens of defendants missed court appearances or other appointments because of the bus slowdown, but attention quickly turned to the case involving Mr. Peterson, who had been in custody after being arrested and charged with robbery and assault. When Mr. Peterson, 21, finally did testify on Dec. 5, he said Mr. Pinto had punched him in the face.

Norman Seabrook, president of the union, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, praised the verdict and scolded city officials.

“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,” Mr. Seabrook said in a statement on Monday afternoon.

The flare-up between the union and City Hall roiled the final weeks of the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. He charged Mr. Seabrook and the union with intimidating a witness and wasting public funds. Lawyers for Mr. Bloomberg filed suit in Manhattan Criminal Court, and sought to fine the union $1 million a day for any repeat of the shutdown.

Courts around the city ground to a near standstill during the two days in November that the buses did not run. According to court papers, 44 inmates missed court appearances and 49 missed health appointments.

Inside the Bronx courtroom where the officers were tried, Judge Villegas, who at times had criticized the union’s actions, made note that the trial received “an abundance of publicity last year.” Then he read his verdicts.

Mr. Pinto, 48, and Mr. Gilkes, 31, dressed in dark suits, stood with their heads bowed as Judge Villegas repeated “not guilty” eighteen times.

From the courtroom, filled with relatives and friends of the defendants, came a whispered woman’s voice: “Thank you.” Outside the courtroom, the two men hugged their supporters and their lawyers.

A spokesman for District Attorney Robert T. Johnson said the office had no comment on the verdict.

Mr. Gilkes and Mr. Pinto also declined to comment after the verdict.