Up to 20 city correction officers were injured in a massive fight at the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx Wednesday morning, officials and sources with knowledge of the case said.
The officers — who guard the 16- and 17-year-old inmates at the recently-opened center — were all hurt trying to quell a brawl between inmates in a classroom.
“This is a really bad incident,” one source said. “We have never had 20 officers go to the hospital for one incident before, ever. These kids have been fighting with each other ever since they got there.”
Out of 20 injured officers, 11 were taken to the hospital, according to Joseph Russo, the vice president of the Assistant Warden/Deputy Wardens Association.
“One group of inmates was moving through the hall and they were passing by a classroom,” Russo said. “The classroom had a group of inmates from a different housing area (and) the door was not locked. A wild brawl ensued.”
The fisticuffs at the Brook Ave. facility lasted about two minutes, authorities said.
All of the injuries suffered by the 16 guards and four captains were minor, sources said. It was not immediately disclosed how many inmates were injured.
The video of the incident doesn’t show a melee, but “staff containing the kids from fighting each other,” a second source said.
The teen inmates at the South Bronx center were all moved there from Rikers Island to comply with the state’s new “Raise the Age” law to treat 16 and 17-year-old offenders as juveniles.
Since the doors opened on Friday, there have been more than a half dozen brawls at Horizon, with correction officers — on loan to the city Administration of Children’s Services — caught in the fray, officials and critics claim.
On Tuesday, one of the teenage inmates managed to grab part of a correction officer’s uniform and wear it, then threw it on the floor and stomped on it, dancing to music played by a civilian counselor, a correction source said.
“Today’s incident is just what’s been happening since they’ve been brought here. Today, two rival gangs see each other…they decided to act like they’re in the streets and set it off,” Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Assocaition, said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“These are not the turnstile jumpers, these are not the people urinating in the park, these are not open containers,” he said. “Out of 92 (inmates), 40% are here for murder and attempted murder and they don’t belong here. This place needs to be shut down.”
As the press conference ended, officials got word of another attack on a corrections officer — a prisoner at Horizon got hold of the officer’s radio and bashed him in the head, a correction source said.
“We are in a transitionary period for a historic reform that’s never been done before and there have been some incidents involving youth and officers, which were quickly addressed,” said ACS spokeswoman Chanel Caraway. “None of the injuries were serious, but we take these and all incidents seriously.”
Mayor de Blasio said the city has done “extraordinary work” achieving the Raise the Age deadline, which mandated all juveniles out of Rikers by Monday.
“The new facilities have been set up to be secure, and there’s been a lot of cooperation in putting that together,” de Blasio said. “It’s a brand new approach, it’s certainly going to take some work to perfect it, but we must keep those facilities secure.”
If a teenage inmate acts violently, they “will be transferred to a more restrictive setting” or “charged with additional crime,” de Blasio said.
“We’re going to be very stringent about that, but I think as something that’s just begun, and begun on a very tight timeline, I think it’s gotten off to a start that shows us we can get the job done,” de Blasio said.
Union officials accused the mayor of lying about Horizon being secure.
“We asked them over and over, ‘Is this place ready?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ Well they lied,” Husamadeen said. “He is lying to you. There is no more secure area in this building…So what does he mean by give it time? Allow one of us to be murdered, allow one of us to be killed?”
A spokesman for the State Office of Children and Family Services said that agency and the State Commission of Correction “are examining videotape of the incident, analyzing the City’s response and providing ACS and DOC with any technical support to assist in the prevention of such occurrences in the future.”
The Correction Officers Benevolent Association has fought the city’s decision to use its members to staff the center. The union claims that the officers are barred from using pepper spray and aren’t properly trained to deescalate incidents involving minors.
”We’re having a lot of trouble there because we don’t have mace spray,” Russo said. “We can’t use handcuffs and we are very limited in the physical force we can use. And the inmates in Horizon, they are fully aware of our limitations. I’ve been told repeatedly that the inmates taunt them and say you can’t touch me. Touch me and you’ll have a lawsuit. Right now we have a serious problem controlling these inmates.”
“They’ve taken away every tool we have to maintain control,” he said. “Somebody’s going to get seriously hurt. It’s like conducting a symphony without the musicians. They don’t have the tools.”
By Jillian Jorgensen, Graham Rayman and Thomas Tracy | Daily News