Posted: Mar. 25, 2017 8:00 am Updated: Mar. 25, 2017 8:55 am
NEW YORK (AP) The latest in a string of brutality cases against Rikers Island guards has added fuel to a growing debate on whether New York City’s notoriously violent jail complex has become so dysfunctional it should be shut down. At least 35 staff members at Rikers have faced criminal charges in the past three years, including 13 for assault or attempted assault. Federal prosecutors have also charged more than a half dozen Rikers guards with violating inmates’ civil rights through excessive force, smuggling drugs and other charges since 2014.
“Rikers Island is one of these long-term injustices and abuses that every New Yorker should be outraged about,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The situation is intolerable.”
Inmate activists have for more than a year argued that shutting down the sprawling, 10-jail complex on the East River is the only solution for a cycle of abuses that include violence by guards and gang members, mistreatment of the mentally ill and juveniles and unjustly long detention for minor offenders.
“If you are a New Yorker who cares about the soul of the criminal justice system, you know that Rikers is the belly of the beast,” said Glenn Martin, founder of the nonprofit group JustLeadershipUSA, which seeks to decrease the number of Americans behind bars. Among the other arguments for closing Rikers is that the island facility near La Guardia Airport accessible only by a narrow bridge is too isolated, cutting off inmates from the outside world in a way that hinders oversight and rehabilitation.
Daily populations at Rikers have recently been falling below the roughly 10,000 capacity, a trend city officials attribute to reducing detention for those charged with misdemeanor drug possession. Advocates say that makes it viable to dismantle Rikers and replace it with a combination of new and expanded existing jails in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Cost estimates have reached as high as $10 billion. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has stuck to his position that reforms and improvements at Rikers are both the least costly and most practical approach. A 2015 settlement of civil litigation over persuasive brutality at Rikers imposed various changes, including the addition of thousands of surveillance cameras, stricter policies on use of force and the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee conditions.
Cuomo, who frequently is at odds with fellow Democrat de Blasio, took an indirect jab at the mayor at a community forum earlier this month, saying his view of the city’s position is that closing Rikers would be “too hard.”
“Well you know what, impotence is not a defense for me,” the governor said. “New York City can accomplish anything it wants to, when it wants to. It just needs the political will. It is an outrage in New York City to allow Rikers Island to exist.”
The latest brutality case stems from security videotape in a maximum-security shower area that shows guard Rodiny Calypso viciously attacking an unnamed inmate in February 2014, a criminal complaint says. After the pair exchanged words Calypso claims the inmate spit on him the guard handcuffed the victim and punched him in the face and the head several times, it says. Calypso, 38, was released on $150,000 bond. His attorney, Joey Jackson, said Tuesday his client “awaits the opportunity to address the specific allegations in court. An independent commission headed by the state’s former chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, is close to announcing recommendations for reforms in the city’s criminal justice system, including whether to shut Rikers for good.
The challenge, Lippman has said, is “to imagine a state-of-the-art criminal justice system in New York City that does not rely on a de facto penal colony on the outskirts of town.”
Living in a small community often comes with the benefits of shorter commutes, knowing all of your neighbors, good support for local businesses and a lower crime rate. But Haydee Perez of Keene wanted bigger things when she graduated from Keene High School in 2004.
I saw Keene as a close-knit community, and as a small town it was nice to grow up there, she said. But when I went to college I realized how much more is out there. Perez said when she first graduated from high school she wanted to join the Marine Corps, but her parents didn t want her to join the military while she was so young.
So I went to college first at El Centro College, she said. Keene is so small and going to college was so different for me because it was a bigger atmosphere and there were so many people.
Perez said being in college gave her the desire to join the military even more.
I saw the military as an opportunity to do something different, to serve the country and see the world, she said. When I went to boot camp and went to [military] school, I instantly loved the camaraderie and friendship I have developed throughout my career.
Behind the badge
Originally when I went to [the Military Entry Processing Station] I wanted to be a corpsman but it wasn t available, she said. Another choice available to me was master-at-arms which is the military police. I always enjoyed the criminal justice field so I thought it would be a good opportunity to get in that field. I knew I could get qualified in weapons and learn how to stand watches. Master-at-arms provide waterborne and land security, aircraft and flight line security, strategic weapons and cargo security, maritime security and platform protection; conduct customs operations, corrections operations, detainee operations, and protective service operations; perform force protection, physical security and law enforcement; organize and train personnel in force protection, physical security, law enforcement, and weapons proficiency; develop plans for physical security and force protection enhancement of Navy bases, installations, property, and personnel; and assist commands in conducting terrorist threat analysis and implementing defensive measures.
I am able to do brig runs and deal with the brig on the ship as well as on shore, she said. To me, it s exciting. The feeling of being able to put someone away who did something wrong or can t follow rules or regulations is exhilarating. While aboard her first ship, Perez had a small accident that put her on shore duty.
I was on the USS Carl Vinson a Nimitz-class supercarrier for a year, by then she said. I fractured my foot on the ship and had to have surgery on it.
Best that she can be
Being transferred to shore duty, however, was rewarding. While serving at Navy Medicine Training Support Center in San Antonio, Perez was part of the Petty Officer Association and helped host events to boost command morale. In 2014, Perez was part of an effort to ease the pain for about 300 Navy, Army and Air Force students who were not able to make it home for the holidays by taking them on a trip to Sea World.
A lot of the students didn t have the money to go home, and some are so close to graduation they couldn t take leave now and have leave for after they graduate, she said. So we hosted these events to keep them busy and allow them the opportunity to interact outside of the classroom.
In 2015, Perez planned and organized an event with mostly student volunteers to paint over graffiti at a local park as part of Fiesta San Antonio.
The graffiti wipeout was on the Fiesta calendar [the year before] but wasn t [that] year, so I decided to organize one, she said. I really wanted to get it back on there so we can get involved in the community somehow, especially for the students. Chief Master-at-Arms Matthew Levell worked with Perez at NMTSC for about a year.
I could never say enough good things about her, he said. As a single mother, she took care of her kids and juggled work and did it fabulously. One of the biggest rates in the Navy is the hospital corpsman so there were about 3,000 students here. Between her and two other sailors, they took care of everything. She was so awesome.
Committed to the job
Perez is now serving at Naval Medical Center San Diego, where the hospital s priority is to provide the safest, highest quality patient-centered medical care for veterans, service members and their families.
I work with the senior officers in the chain of command and having direct interaction with leadership has been very positive, she said. Perez said she feels honored to be able to serve at a hospital that is continually raising the bar in health care.
I enjoy working with the medical community, she said. They care about their sailors and advancement. It has given me a good view into the community and helped me decided that I would like to go into the nursing field.
Perez said those who serve in Navy medicine understand that they play a key role in meeting the missions of the armed forces. Keeping busy is what Perez does best.
I don t know how I am doing it all because I have two kids Penelope and Juliano, she said. I go to work and when I get home I do some online courses. But, I have had a lot of help from friends and family. One person who helps her out is her sister, Daniella Robles.
She is very involved in her command and tries to find time to do everything, she said. I served in the Navy aboard the USS Stennis, but we weren t ever anywhere near each other. It was like two different worlds, even though we were both in the Navy. But, depending on what she wants to do, I think she will take a lot of what she learned in the military with her wherever she goes. In her job as a master-at-arms, she has learned a good work ethic.
Perez said she would like to transition from enlisted to officer, so she is working on a package to submit to her command.
I am also graduating this year with my bachelor s in criminal justice with a concentration in criminal investigations from the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, she said. If becoming an officer isn t part of the plan for me, then I d like to move back home to Keene to work in law enforcement. Perez said she always recommends people join the military because of the benefits they can receive.
The military is a great opportunity if they are thinking about going to school and don t want to go into debt, she said. For those who are in small towns like Keene, it is also a great opportunity to get out and learn about leadership, teamwork and to see something different. I love what the Navy has done for me and my family. I love being able to serve and travel. The military in general has a lot of benefits for everyone. Even though there are 322,809 active duty sailors, Perez said being in the Navy is almost like being in Keene.
We are a close-knit community and there are always opportunity for adventure, she said.
His friends say the only thing Joshua Carmona loved more than baseball was his mother.
She would take him on road trips to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and buy tickets months out for New York Yankees games at Tropicana Field. She would cheer from the bleachers at his West Tampa Little League games, and whenever he talked of going pro some day, it was always as a way to take care of her. But baseball also brought his mother together with the man she would marry, Stephen D’Angelo. Trips to Tropicana came to include the daughter the couple have together, now 3, and Carmona eventually stopped tagging along. By the time he enrolled at Jefferson High School, he had given up on trying out for the team.
On Monday, Tahirih Lua D’Angelo’s 39th birthday, Carmona picked up a baseball bat his stepfather had given him and struck his mother as she stood in the kitchen of their Riverview townhome, relatives and sheriff’s investigators said. He beat her repeatedly then stabbed her neck with a butcher knife. She was found in a bathroom, nearly decapitated, her body wrapped in a comforter. Horrified, friends and family are left probing through memories that might somehow explain how a bright loner once teased in school for being a momma’s boy could so violently attack the woman who gave him life.
They point to the changes in his family, the pressures of college’s first year, the counseling sessions for depression. His drug use came to the surface in November, when Pennsylvania State Police found him with marijuana, contemplating suicide in a stolen car. The rarity of children killing a parent it accounts for about 2 percent of U.S. homicides helps explain why it’s such a shocking crime. But few other explanations are clear in Tara D’Angelo’s death, except perhaps this: She inspired a deep passion in her son, so much so that he once brought a high school auditorium to tears reading an essay on how much he loved her.
“He was always with his mom, talking about how he loved her and he didn’t want to let her down,” said his high school friend Miguel Guzman. “He loved his mom to death. He really did.”
Raised by a single mother of three, Tara D’Angelo developed a love for sports at an early age. She was full of energy, outgoing and “soft-hearted,” said her best friend Renee Davis. She had held a job ever since Davis met her at Hillsborough High School. If she happened to have a night off, it was spent singing karaoke, tailgating with friends or hanging out at casinos. When D’Angelo was 20, she became pregnant with Joshua. She had only known his father briefly and when he learned of the pregnancy, he left, Davis said.
When her son was about 4, D’Angelo left him with her mother and moved away. Details about why are few. Relatives say she worked odd jobs in Arizona, Wyoming and Oregon, staying in contact with her son and making trips home for holidays. In April 2009, she moved back to Tampa and five months later, she met Stephen D’Angelo. Joshua could have lived with his mother the day she came back, but he chose to remain with his grandmother until she died when he was 11. His mother would take Joshua on trips and work extra hours to pay for the toys and video games she knew he wanted, but the once happy child became more and more withdrawn.
“If she knew he wanted something she would get it for him,” Davis said. “That’s why I don’t understand why he would do this. She worked so hard to buy him stuff because she wasn’t there for him when he was growing up. But it wasn’t enough.”
Miguel Guzman befriended Joshua Carmona in a freshman math class at Jefferson High School after making a joke about his Yankees baseball cap. Carmona was quiet and nerdy and Guzman, by his own account, was a popular troublemaker. Guzman was drawn to his new friend’s kindness and depth. Carmona would help him with his homework and Guzman would stick up for Carmona when bullies picked on him in the hallways. He would walk Carmona to classes, like “a human cage.”
When kids laughed and called him a mama’s boy, he got so mad he turned “red as the sun,” Guzman said. Carmona had a temper, and it showed when Guzman told him he was leaving school sophomore year to get a GED. Relatives saw his temper, too, and worried because he rarely engaged them in conversation, said his uncle Luis Carmona. Most of his days were spent inside his bedroom.
“There was nothing keeping him there if he disliked the people he was with,” Luis Carmona said. “He was smart, he was educated, he had every opportunity, and every resource available to him to leave was there.”
Guzman, 20, lost contact with Joshua Carmona until he saw him last summer working at a juice kiosk in the Westfield Brandon mall. Carmona talked about how excited he was to be going to Fordham University in Manhattan.
Most of Carmona’s friends from high school got to know him junior year. That’s when he started smoking marijuana and became more outgoing, said one friend, Yahel Hernandez, 19. Hernandez was popular, a member of many school clubs and had a big group of friends. After he befriended Carmona, Hernandez said, the once shy honors student began attending games and homecoming dances. He became president of the National Math Honors Society and spoke out on politics. Senior year, Hernandez persuaded Carmona to join him in the “Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson” pageant. Hernandez took the title, but Carmona was thrilled to be chosen second runner up. For the talent portion, Carmona read about his mother a moving speech that brought the auditorium to tears, Hernandez said.
Things took a turn for the worse, though. His first kiss was from Sabrina Feliciano, class valedictorian, after he asked her if she would be his date for the senior prom. But even teachers soon learned the story behind why she showed up to the dance alone. Her date passed out in a hotel room while “pre-gaming” with friends, and didn’t make it to the dance until well after it was over. Carmona always made her laugh, Feliciano said, but she distanced herself from him because of his partying. Still, she said, “The guy who did this to his mom was not the Joshua I know.”
Carmona maintained his grades, earning a perfect score on his AP Psychology exam. He graduated 11th in his class last May, completing the Criminal Justice magnet program and earning a certification to be a security guard. He doted on his little sister and is only seen smiling in family photos with her.
But shortly after graduation, Tara D’Angelo kicked her son out of the house where he lived with her, Stephen D’Angelo, the couple’s daughter and an aunt for smoking marijuana. Stephen D’Angelo is a customer service representative for a utility company and his wife, who works at a Walmart, was pursuing an associate’s degree. Carmona spent about a month couch surfing before he left for college in a rental car. He saw his mother briefly before he left, said her father-in-law Bob D’Angelo. Carmona left Fordham midway through the first semester and his friends assumed it was because of financial struggles or grades. He never told them he had been arrested for stealing a woman’s car after driving to Pennsylvania to attempt suicide.
Four months later, Carmona, 18, is in jail on a charge of first degree murder, awaiting a bail hearing Monday. His public defender declined to comment for this story. Carmona was arrested after being pulled over by a Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy Monday night. Investigators said he had intended to kill his stepfather, too, but his plan fell through. The family has told his step-sister that her mother won’t be coming home. Talking to her about her brother will be a harder conversation. They’ve set up a gofundme.com page to help pay costs they’re incurring from the slaying.
“I don’t think I can call him my friend knowing what he’s done, but for a while he was my best friend,” Hernandez said. “When I think back on all of those interactions I still feel the same and those memories I’ll never forget.”
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.
- ^ BACKSTORY: Son, 18, accused of killing his mother on her birthday (www.tampabay.com)