9, Jan 2023
NYC Correction officers’ inmate coziness endangers jails

She promised her man she’d “transform into that girl you like, that freak in the sheets” — private words in most relationships, but a serious legal matter when spoken by a city corrections officer to a Rikers Island detainee.

Christina McIntyre’s relationship with one of the inmates she was supposed to oversee in a Rikers jail was trouble in the eyes of investigators who caught wind of the alleged workplace romance.

McIntyre’s case is an example of a type of employee misconduct the city Correction Department calls “undue familiarity” — misbehavior that can range from helping a jailed friend or relative to romances or sexual contact between Correction employees and detainees.

Undue familiarity is difficult for investigators to detect — as are the consequences for that behavior. Prison and union officials refused to say what sort of penalties — if any — were handed out in more than a dozen cases uncovered by the Daily News.

McIntyre and the detainee talked on the phone no less than 679 times between July 2020 and January 2021, investigative records obtained by the Daily News show.

Some of their sexually explicit talk was captured in recorded calls. McIntyre continued to see the detailee after he was released, investigators found. A Correction source said McIntyre is still employed by the department and is on desk duty. Records show that in 2022, she drew a salary of $89,948.

Fifteen undue familiarity cases were investigated during 2020 and 2021 were all referred back to the Department of Correction for disciplinary action, records obtained by The News show.

While the records indicate the allegations of undue familiarity were substantiated to the satisfaction of the Department of Investigation probers, the data obtained by The News do not indicate what disciplinary actions Corrections might have been taken.

Many of the officers caught in such relationships, however, were still on the job for at least part of 2022, with some earning well over $100,000, according to the good-government website SeeThroughNY. Those records indicate an employee was on the payroll for at least part of the year, but do not include current employment status.

A spokesman for the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which represents correction officers, did not respond to a request for comment about the officers mentioned in this article.

The Department of Correction policy has banned undue familiarity interactions since at least 1996. In 2008, then-Correction Commissioner Martin Horn issued a department-wide memo warning staff that undue familiarity is a fire-able offense and could end in criminal charges.

“When boundaries are crossed, we become ineffective and the safety of each of us is threatened,” Horn wrote.

Former New York City Correction Commissioner Martin Horn in 2009.

Horn enacted a policy banning “all sexual conduct” in city jails, which was aimed at preventing “inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate sexual abuse and sexual threats.”

That policy was built upon older Department of Corrections policy that said its employees “shall not indulge in any undue familiarity with inmates nor shall they permit undue familiarity on the part of the inmates towards themselves.”

One goal of rules against undue familiarity is to prevent the introduction of contraband, said Sarena Townsend, a former Corrections Department Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence, Investigation and Trials.

Relationships between an officer and a detainee can develop to “a point where the detainee convinces the officer to bring them something in exchange for something else,” Townsend said.

Detainees’ demands of correction officers have the potential to weaken jail security by undermining the balance of power.

Townsend explained: “Sometimes it rises to the level of threats — ‘I know where you live. I know who your family is, and you better bring in … cigarettes or you better bring me drugs. Or I’m gonna tell my people on the streets to mess with your family and mess with you.’”

Sexual relationships between female correction officers and male detainees are a serious problem, Townsend said.

“A sexual relationship — that takes it to a whole other level. Not only because we’re afraid of what the officer or the detainee might be able to do that compromises that safety and security, but also a person who is a detainee doesn’t have the ability to consent,” Townsend said.

Sarena Townsend, Esq., Former Department of Correction Deputy Commissioner Investigation and Trials Division in Queens in 2019.

Investigators opened one case in June 2020 with a four-page handwritten love letter to a detainee found on a floor in Rikers Island’s George R. Vierno Center. Around the same time, Correction Officer Samada Brown was reported to have been looking for a letter she lost in the same jail.

Investigators quickly figured out Brown penned the letter and they soon determined she had not only been in a relationship with the detainee, but used two hard-to-trace burner phones to talk with him, the records show. Detainees are not allowed to possess their own phones.

Brown later told the detainee she didn’t think anyone would find out because she didn’t put any names in the letter.

In an intercepted call, Brown mulled their “unlikely” relationship. Later, when the detainee said he couldn’t imagine his life without her, she said, “It hasn’t even started yet.” On another call that day, she said, “Is that what you want to do the first night? Cuddle?”

The Department of Investigation substantiated the allegations and found she had gone to “considerable lengths” to hide the relationship. But even after the incident, she remained on the Department of Correction payroll for at least part of 2022, and was paid at a rate of $92,073 per year, SeeThroughNY records show.

Rikers Island's George R. Vierno Center

Contraband smuggling is a common outcome of relationships between detainees and officers.

In one case opened in 2020, officials investigating Correction Officer Stacey Hipps for undue familiarity uncovered three officers, a nurse and a captain allegedly involved in contraband smuggling in four different jails.

Hipps, they found, called a former detainee who had also been in touch with other staff 299 times between January and August 2020. Hipps and the detainee planned to marry in September 2020.

Despite the incident, Hipps was on the payroll for at least part of 2022, and was paid at a rate of $155,905 per year. In a brief phone conversation, she told The News the incident “never happened” and hung up.

In another case in September 2020, investigators caught Officer Ava Gaye-Graham’s sexually explicit phone conversations with a detainee. She wired that detainee $350 to buy contraband from another detainee, the Department of Investigation found.

Occasionally, cases involve correction of officers dealing with incarcerated relatives.

Department of Investigation records tell of a probe of Captain Monique Williams, whose sons were at Rikers in 2021. Williams discussed mailing sneakers to her sons, the records say. Later, sneakers containing fentanyl and heroin were mailed to her incarcerated sons — but the probers couldn’t prove that Williams had sent them.

But the investigators did substantiate an allegation that Williams discussed sensitive Correction Department security issues with his sons. Williams is on desk duty currently.

Correction Captains Association President Patrick Ferraiuolo said he had not been informed of any charges against Williams.

Contraband confiscated from inmates was displayed at a news conference on Rikers Island in June.

Food is also among the items correction officers might provide detentions with whom they are unduly familiar, show investigations.

Officer Tamar Warren was caught in 2021 giving contraband shrimp, Philly cheesesteaks, earrings and bodywork lotion to a female detainee at the Rose M. Singer Center. He also sent the woman $600.

Between January 20, 2021 and March 6, 2021, the DOI found that Warren and the detainee had eight phone calls in which the officer referred to her as “love,” “honey,” “mamma” and “baby.” The two canoodled over the phone asking each other about their respective days and saying they loved and missed each other, according to investigative records.

Warren had numerous clandestine interludes with other Singer Center female inmates in an office, in which investigators placed a hidden camera. Warren found out he was under investigation and stopped using the office. Warren was on the Department of Corrections payroll for at least part of 2022, and was paid at an annual rate of $92,073, according to SeeThroughNY.

Investigators sometimes come across cases where detainees and guards exchange money, but for reasons not immediately clear. The Investigation Department was following a lead on one officer when it came across recorded calls referring to officer payoffs in 2021.

On one recording, an officer in the Anna M. Kross Center said, “If you want the whole thing, it’s a band [a slang term for $1,000]but you have to send $750 upfront.”

Probers identified the officer as Sandeep Kissoondyal, known as “CO Kiss.”

From August 2020 to March 2021, investigators found frequent phone calls between Kissoondyal and former inmates. He was also seen talking to detainees during the late-night shifts.

In another set of intercepted calls, a former inmate talking to a detainee said that he and Kissoondyal were “going to party soon,” words investigators took as a reference to a contraband delivery. In August 2021, probers intercepted mail to an inmate that Kissoondyal had spoken with, and found three sheets of paper saturated with fentanyl.

Undue familiarity accusations against Kissoondyal were substantiated. He was paid $92,073 in 2022, according to SeeThroughNY, but The News could not fully confirm he is still employed with the Correction Department. He did not reply to a request for comment.

A sneaked kiss might be one sign investigators find of an inappropriate relationship. Officer Jeannine Abou-Abdallah was caught on camera in March 2021 smooching a detainee through a food slot in the Anna M. Kross Center.

Investigators then found she was letting him hang out overnight near a guard’s desk. She was suspended and put on modified duty. The News was unable to reach Abou-Abdallah.

The News attempted to contact the officers accused of undue familiarity in the records it obtained, but could not reach them all.

The Department of Correction declined to comment.

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