Prosecutors Ordered Not to Pursue Cases on Rikers Island in Many Instances, Emails Show

NY1 obtained internal emails from the Bronx district attorney's office in which prosecutors are ordered to decline pursuing cases on Rikers Island in many instances. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

After a violent summer among inmates on Rikers Island, you might expect a spike in arrests. But instead, internal emails from the Bronx district attorney's office, which has jurisdiction over the jail, show higher-ups instructing prosecutors to hold back.

An email sent Tuesday from a chief in the DA's office says, "Until further notice all Felony arrest of inmates must be declined to prosecute if brought into the complaint room." She goes on to say further investigation will be required.

An email from last Thursday from an assistant district attorney says prosecution of Rikers cases should be deferred in a number of instances: when eyewitnesses or plaintiffs are not available to speak and when there is video of the alleged incident, but it was not brought to the complaint room.

He wrote that cases in which contraband - which could mean weapons - are found in an inmate's bed should be not be pursued, either. And he said illegal items left in visitor lockers at the jail are not cause for prosecution.

"It ordinarily and almost unequivocally says, you know, you can do what you want to a New York City correction officer or inmate, for that matter, or civilian, and get away with it in Bronx County," said Norman Seabrook .

Odalys Alonso, the chief assistant district attorney in the Bronx, said the office has a backlog of more than 70 cases from Rikers, and she doesn't want it to grow.

"I said, let's stop. Let's not add any more to this until we can resolve the issues that are causing this," she told NY1 in a telephone interview.

She said the city's Department of Correction is not bringing Rikers defendants to court when they are needed.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio says the Bronx DA needs to be acting faster.

"If an inmate commits a crime on Rikers, they must face expeditious prosecution. The Department of Correction compiles arrest materials quickly for the Bronx DA to move forward with prosecutions, and we expect active prosecution of those who assault other inmates and staff."

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