After officer is slashed at Rikers union calls for Joseph Ponte’s removal

By Bill Parry

The 22 stitches on the face and head of Correction Officer Raymond Calderon were clearly visible during a rally on the steps of City Hall Monday.

Calderon, who was slashed during an unprovoked attack by two teenage inmates on Rikers Island Nov. 5, was joined by 200 fellow officers, union leaders and elected officials as he spoke of his assault.

“I was choked from behind as hard as the guy could choke me,” Calderon said. “I almost passed out. If I was passed out, this would be a funeral.”

The 31-year-old called into question the Department of Correction’s plan to eliminate solitary confinement for adolescents under the age of 21 on Jan. 1.

“Whoever thought getting rid of solitary confinement was a good idea needs to go,” Calderon said. “I could have easily been killed. I almost died.”

Calderon opened a cell door when 19-year-old Darnell Green suddenly put him in a chokehold, the criminal complaint saud, William Whitfield, 18, joined the attack with a blade and began slashing Calderon, according to the court papers.

The two inmates did not enter pleas at their arraignment Friday night in Bronx Criminal Court. They were ordered held on $500,000 bail on assault and other charges.

The Correction Officers Benevolent Association announced at the rally that it was seeking a temporary restraining order to delay the implementation of new use of force guidelines until they have been properly reviewed and training has been provided to their members. COBA President Norman Seabrook called on the de Blasio administration to remove DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte due to the failure of his leadership to stem the violence at New York City jails.

“As Thursday night reminded everyone, the lives of our officers are at risk every time they put on their uniforms and go to work,” Seabrook said. “Despite the decrease in the population of Rikers and other facilities, incidents of violence against officers have continued to increase under Commissioner Ponte’s watch. Yet he and the department continue to exclude our officers from discussions of reform and from providing input on guidelines we have to live by every day. It is unacceptable. Bringing in a reformer without any relevant experience to a large urban jail population was a novel experiment, but it has failed and the commissioner needs to go.”

Ponte said last Friday that he was “outraged by this horrific attack,” but has not commented on the rally. Mayor de Blasio offered his support during a separate event on Monday.

“The situation at Rikers was unacceptable the day we walked into office. It’s still unacceptable,” the mayor said. “There’s going to be a lot more done, but I believe we’re on the right track to reduce the use of force properly and to get away from punitive segregation.”

The DOC’s court-ordered implementation of the new use of force policy is scheduled to begin Nov. 20 and City Hall is defending the way it was formulated.

“DOC’s new use of force policy was drafted with significant contribution from uniformed members of staff from across the department and other bodies, including the unions and the Board of Correction,” spokeswoman Monica Klein said. “Commissioner Ponte is a proven reformer with over 40 years of experience in jails and prisons across the country, and the mayor has full confidence in Commissioner Ponte and his experienced leadership team.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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