criminal justice system

Rape at Rosie’s

On a spring day in 2013, Darcell Marshall, a Rikers Island inmate, scrawled a note on a small scrap of paper and asked an acquaintance to courier it to her lone friend and confidante in the sprawling jail complex, a woman called Sparkles. They were both housed in the Rose M. Singer Center, the all-female facility. “Meet me at the infirmary during sick call,” the message said.

The then-22-year-old Marshall, who’d been arrested on prostitution-related charges, was five years younger than Sparkles and relatively naïve, at least in her willful hope that, despite much evidence to the contrary, the next guy she met would be “the one.” Though Marshall had initiated the conversation, now that they were huddled together in the infirmary, she was reluctant to speak. In the sex economy of Rikers, her status had recently changed. For a while, she’d had what she considered a consensual relationship with a guard, and then she’d been raped.

As it happened, Sparkles had a good idea what Marshall wanted to confide — gossip, like sex, is currency in the harsh and hermetic world of Rikers. “I’m hearing all these stories,” Sparkles whispered. “I’m hearing you got raped.”

Yes, Marshall gradually admitted, the guard had choked her and forced himself on her.

“You gonna tell?” Sparkles asked.

“I want to,” Marshall said.

“Well, you need proof.”

Marshall believed she already had it: “People in here see the logbooks and cameras. They see me with the mad contraband.”

That’s not enough, Sparkles said. Not long before, Sparkles had accused another guard of sexual misconduct, alleging that she awoke one night to see him standing in her cell, masturbating. She reported the incident to the mental-health department, who passed it on to the jail authorities, but as far as she could tell, the man had never been disciplined.

“This is what you do,” Sparkles told Marshall. “If he tries you again like that, you need to take his cum and put it on your clothes. You need to get evidence of his DNA.” After the guard left her cell, Sparkles had found semen on her sheets but hadn’t saved them.

Marshall wasn’t sure she could go through with it. The man she was accusing was a veteran correction officer with a wide network of relationships inside the women’s jail, which is nicknamed “Rosie’s.”

“Be brave,” said Sparkles. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Darcell Marshall. Photo: Nydia Blas

According to the most recent Justice Department study, an anonymous survey of 53,000 inmates in 358 jails nationwide, about 50 of the 800 women housed at Rosie’s at any one time are being sexually victimized by staff — which puts Rosie’s among the top-12 worst jails in the country. Rikers’ reputation as a brutally Darwinian, scandal-ridden “torture island,” where people who can’t afford bail spend months — and occasionally years — awaiting trial, has been well documented. And Mayor de Blasio has pledged to shut the place down by 2027. Although it’s part of the same story of corruption and violence, sexual assault and harassment at Rikers’ women’s facility has received relatively little attention. The DOJ survey also found that women there were more likely to say they’d been pressured for failing to acquiesce than those at any other jail in the United States. Call it the House of the Ultimate Unreckoned.

Any sex between an inmate and a guard, including so-called willing contact, is classified as victimization under federal rules, and under New York State law, it’s statutory rape. Darcell Marshall — who is for the first time telling her story, after anonymously suing the city and the guard she says assaulted her — had both consensual and nonconsensual experiences in the jail. Which in some ways isn’t a surprise: She arrived at Rikers having already spent years being sexually abused and bartering her body to get by. In the words of Dori Lewis, a supervising attorney for the Prisoner’s Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, she was among the many Rosie’s inmates who “suffer an extraordinarily high incidence of trauma before entering jail” only to get locked up “and once again be subject to men taking advantage of their positions of power.”

Born in a small town near Greensboro, North Carolina, Marshall was a serial runaway by age 13, in and out of juvenile detention and group homes and trading sex for food and shelter. When she was 17, a pimp sent her to New York, where for three years, Marshall says, she worked for a succession of men and was beaten, drugged, and thrown from a moving car. On a trip south with her pimp in 2011, she was picked up for leaving North Carolina in breach of her probation — as a 16-year-old, she’d spit on an officer in a juvenile facility — and sentenced to a year and a half in prison for the violation.

Marshall says her pimp contacted her immediately after her release, inviting her to return to New York and be his “girlfriend.” She decided to give it a go. “I don’t think Darcell is completely unaware of the fact that these aren’t good people,” says Melissa Harry, whom she met working at a New York restaurant. “There’s a starvation for love and affection, a void.”

Inevitably, perhaps, when Marshall arrived at her would-be boyfriend’s home in Queens, she discovered that she was one of three young women living there and that he wanted her to dance at a New Jersey strip club. She was furious, she says, but she didn’t have anyplace else to go. About two weeks later, she came home from work to find that one of her roommates had bruises on her face and had called 911. Police arrested everyone in the house. After she refused to cooperate in a case against her pimp, Marshall says she was charged with sex trafficking and deposited at Rikers.

Unable to pay the $150,000 bail, Marshall had been in jail for two months when, early one morning, she joined a group of inmates watching a hip-hop video on a correction officer’s phone. Short and jowly with a salt-and-pepper military-style haircut and a pencil-thin mustache, the guard had been at Rikers for more than 15 years, Marshall would learn, and his name was Benny Santiago.

When the other inmates drifted away, he peppered Marshall with questions, and she walked away thinking how nice, how cool he seemed. Later that week, as Marshall filled her breakfast plate, Santiago motioned her over. Flattered he remembered her name, she started to chat with him. He called her “sweet” and expressed hope she’d beat her charges.

“You’re too pretty to be locked up,” he said. “You have a beautiful smile.”

Why is he being so flirty? Marshall thought.

Santiago’s compliments continued. “Your hair is so long and pretty. Your skin is smooth like chocolate — I love chocolate.” He told her he liked her lips. Then he said, “I’d like to see how they look wrapped around my dick,” according to Marshall’s deposition.

She was startled. Is he serious? Is this a setup by the prosecutor?

“What can you do for me?” she asked coyly, noting she needed commissary money for soap and deodorant.

“I’ll let you know,” Santiago replied.

Even if she were somehow being framed, Marshall wasn’t going to pass up the chance to get some things she needed. She’d gotten the standard-issue kit — a toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap with lye, which “burns your private parts up,” as one former Rosie’s inmate described it — but she had to depend on her commissary account for anything else. (That can include sanitary pads or tampons, access to which is controlled by guards who’ve reportedly rationed the supplies as a form of intimidation or punishment.) Inmates who don’t have friends or relatives to fund their commissary accounts, never mind to visit them, “have to hustle,” Marshall says, “like you’re on the street.”

Later that week, with most of the jail sound asleep, Marshall awoke to the pop of her cell door. Standing there was Santiago.

“You ready?” she remembers him saying. “I got the money.”

After leading her to an empty cell, Santiago handed her a fold of $20 bills and started stroking her breasts, Marshall says, then unbuckled his belt as she knelt down. Afterward, back in her cell, Marshall’s heart was pumping: Oh, I got some money! Yo, I can’t believe this! A CO!

Women at Rosie’s, 2010. Photo: Clara Vannucci

Soon after their first encounter, Santiago went on vacation, though not before offering Marshall his personal contact information, scrawled on a Bible-study pamphlet that had been mailed to his home. “You get out, knock on my door,” he said. “I don’t want you back on the streets.”

When he returned from his time away, he instructed her to switch her work hours to match his own overnight shift. She obliged; Marshall worked as a suicide-prevention aide in Building 9, which was connected to Santiago’s station in Building 11 by a small walk-through pantry.

Thus began their ritual. Santiago would walk through the pantry, aim his flashlight under the door, and gently knock, according to court documents. Marshall would then follow him back to his workstation — a table near the janitor’s closet — and listen to him talk about his family, house, car. Soon, he was bringing Marshall gifts: candy, gum, lotion, perfume, makeup, chocolate hearts. He let her use his phone to post on Facebook.

After one early-morning rendezvous, she and Santiago had intercourse, she says. Again, it was in an empty cell, and Marshall says she asked if he had a condom, but he told her not to worry about it. When she asked if he’d been with other women in the jail, he said he hadn’t. Marshall suspected that her fellow inmates could hear them having sex through the walls, but she didn’t care. She felt special.

Marshall may have been falling for the guard, but, again, her state of mind is irrelevant under New York State law. The power differential between inmates and correction officers is vast. “They have the power to say, ‘No, you’re not getting a roll of toilet paper. No, you can’t come out of your cell. No, you can’t use the phone to call your family,’ ” says former Rosie’s inmate Kelly Spinelli, who recently filed her own sexual-assault suit against Rikers. Primed to be exploited inside jail by years of being exploited outside of it — 40 percent of female detainees nationwide said in a recent survey that they’d “done commercial sex work or traded sex for food, shelter, money, or drugs” — women like Marshall are a low-cost prostitution playground for guards with the inclination to take advantage of them. Consent can be treated as a given, the price as little as a few dollars to call home.

Several weeks after they met, Marshall noticed the customary flicker of light under the pantry door, but this time she wasn’t in the mood. When she told Santiago she was tired and just wanted to hang out, “it was, ‘Oh, come on, you’re so pretty, I really like you. You know we’re going to be so good together, we’re both Virgos,’ ” Marshall recounted in her deposition. He begged her to go down on him, she says: “Please, please, please.” Maybe I owe it to him, she thought. He’s done so much for me. She gave in.

It didn’t end there, however. “He stood me up, like by my arm, and turned me around. While he’s kissing on my neck, he unzipped my jeans and whatnot, and pulled them down, bent me over, and we had sex. He pulled out before he came. Came in his hand, and that was that.”

Marshall felt defeated as she walked back to work, used. I’m so dumb, she thought. But then: Maybe he really does care for me and doesn’t know how to express it.

Proof of that seemed to come a few days later, when Santiago presented Marshall with a set of pink headphones and a pink Moleskine notebook.

As suddenly as Santiago’s interest in Marshall flared, it faded. She missed his attentions — his inquiries into her case and talk of a future together — and in an effort to keep things going, she switched to double shifts at the mental-health unit.
Sometimes the flicker of light would come, and he gave her loose tobacco and an Ecstasy pill as “presents,” but more often she was the one knocking on the pantry door, even though she knew it was next to impossible for him to hear her through the door on the other side. Eventually, two officers who worked in Building 9 caught on. “You know, what he’s doing to you is not right,” one of them said, according to Marshall.

One morning Santiago finally emerged through the pantry door. This time Marshall was prepared for a confrontation. She followed him back to his workstation, where they stood face-to-face under the dimmed lights of the early-morning jail. “You’re being real nasty to me,” she told him in a loud whisper. “You just flipped. Why are you acting like this?” With a look of annoyance, Santiago accused Marshall of telling others about them; in hindsight, she figures he feared getting in trouble. Their quarrel escalated, and Santiago, who isn’t much taller than Marshall’s five-foot-six, put his face inches from hers, she says, threatening to send her to solitary confinement, write her a “fake ticket,” or order other inmates to jump her. When Marshall didn’t back down, she says Santiago struck her. “He smacked me and like choked me,” she said in her deposition. “He wasn’t pressing really hard, but he choked me … and was like shaking me.”

Marshall was stunned. She would’ve fought back if a guy had done this to her on the outside, she says, but she never expected Santiago to hit her. Not that she had much time to respond. Fuming with anger, the guard grabbed her arm, she says, and pushed her into the tiny janitor’s closet, which was outside the range of two video cameras in the room. Santiago closed the door, and the room went dark. “You should just be fucking me because I’ve done so much for you,” Marshall remembers him hissing in the shadows.

As Santiago pushed her back against the wall, Marshall started crying, telling him that she didn’t want to have sex and that she’d report him. No one would believe her, she says Santiago told her. He pulled down her pants, Marshall says — she’d given up on resisting — and raped her. After he was finished, Marshall slumped back to work.

By early May, about three months after meeting the guard, Marshall was afraid of what else he might do to her and angry that he’d scammed her into thinking he cared about her. He was just “a trick at the end of the day,” she wrote in her journal. That’s when she and Sparkles had the hushed conversation in the infirmary.

Not long afterward, Santiago appeared at the pantry door. “You know what the fuck time it is,” Marshall remembers him saying. This time, after Santiago came in her mouth, Marshall spit out his semen and rubbed it on her jeans — her favorite pair, the Gap flare-legs she’d worn on her bus ride to New York six long months earlier.

Back in her dorm, Marshall folded up the jeans and stuck the bundle in a clothes bin. Then she took a long shower, weeping her way through.

Infuriated she’d reported him (though she hadn’t yet), Santiago subsequently locked her in her cell for a day without food. (In a deposition, Santiago confirmed that he’d denied her food but claimed it was punishment for fighting with another inmate, whose name he couldn’t recall; no documentation of a fight was logged.)

Outside her cell, inmates threatened her. “Why she in here snitchin’? We gonna jump you.”

The next day, she told an officer she wanted to kill herself — a ruse she hoped would get her taken to the mental-health clinic, where she could tell someone about Santiago. It worked, but when Marshall tried to explain what was going on, the counselor “looked at me like I was crazy,” she says, and told her nothing could be done, before handing her some Benadryl and sending her back to her cell.

When Marshall asked a second time to go to mental health, she was sent to the infirmary, where medical staff notified the Department of Investigation — the watchdog agency that investigates corruption across city government. During a lengthy conversation with DOI representatives, Marshall accused Santiago of raping her and offered personal details about him, including information about his family, vacation, car, and penis — erect and flaccid.

The DOI investigators later that day retrieved the jeans, and they caught up with Santiago just before his shift began that night. He denied Marshall’s accusations and refused to take a DNA test. He suggested that Marshall had a 50 percent chance of guessing correctly that his penis was uncircumcised.

Marshall, who maintained she was afraid for her life, was transferred to Rosie’s protective-custody unit. Another inmate got word to Sparkles, who dispatched a note to Marshall with a request to meet in the chapel.

“I got the jeans,” Marshall told Sparkles as they sat in the pews. “But they put me back in Building 11.”

Soon other inmates spotted the two women talking. “That’s that bitch that told on Santi,” one spat. A chorus of taunts ensued: “The shit he was doin’ for you?”

After the DOI officially opened an investigation, Santiago was put on modified duty, and Marshall was transferred to Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen. She says she was a zombie, unable to eat or sleep. Facing at least nine years if convicted of sex trafficking, and worried how her history as a sex worker would look to a jury, Marshall took a plea deal.

One day, a Legal Aid lawyer named Barbara Hamilton came to visit her. Hamilton had been tipped off to what happened to Marshall by a Rosie’s inmate. The lawyer eventually heard similar accusations against Santiago from another detainee, who joined Marshall in her suit as Jane Doe 1. Another former sex worker, she also alleged that Santiago had repeatedly raped her, held her down and choked her and punished her with anal rape if she complained or asked him to use a condom. The guard instructed her to complain of chest pains so he could intercept her at the medical clinic, then take her to another part of the jail and rape her. Sometimes he’d drive to her family’s house and sit outside in his car. Her mother testified that Santiago once introduced himself at the door. “You know I know everything about you, right?” Santiago told Jane Doe 1 (who declined to be interviewed for this story).

Jane Doe 1 had witnessed the other inmates threatening Marshall. “This made me feel scared and all alone,” she said in a legal declaration. “I figured they would treat me the same way they treated [Marshall] if I told on Santiago.”

When the two women filed their suit in May of 2015 – Legal Aid teamed up with the private law firm Cleary Gottlieb, which offered pro bono assistance – “it set off a shock wave through the legal and criminal-justice-reform communities in New York City,” says Kelly Grace Price, a member of the New York City Jails Action Coalition and co-creator of a campaign called #CloseRosies. “The Jane Does were the nexus for our movement to coalesce around.”

Since then, a string of other Rosie’s inmates have sued guards who they say sexually abused them. In a still-pending case, one inmate alleges that in 2013, officers handcuffed her inside a nonfunctioning bathroom and penetrated her vagina and anus with a flashlight, then had sex with her. Another says she was raped in a van by a transport officer as a second officer watched. A third woman’s rape accusation against a guard led to a criminal charge and guilty plea in June 2017, though the officer avoided jail time. Last year, a Rikers physician’s assistant (employed by the jail’s then–medical contractor) was indicted in Bronx County for sexually assaulting four Rosie’s inmates in 2013; a trial is scheduled for this year.

Kelly Spinelli’s case shares remarkable similarities with Marshall’s. Spinelli, who was arrested for participating in a botched robbery that led to murder, sued the city last October, charging that in 2015 two officers — one named Steven Santiago, no known relation to Benny — forced her to strip and masturbate while they watched porn and that a third CO raped her four times in 2016. Like Marshall, she was transferred to a unit that her alleged abuser controlled and was bribed with marijuana, Suboxone, and tobacco in an attempt to keep her from talking. Spinelli, too, was a Jane Doe, until in February she was transferred to the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills to serve the remainder of a six-year sentence and felt safe enough to reveal her name.

And this isn’t the half of what Hamilton says she’s heard over the past eight years of interviewing Rosie’s inmates, some of whom think sexual victimization is just part of what it means to be in jail — What can you do? — and some of whom are terrified to complain for fear of retaliation. “It’s systemic,” Hamilton says, explaining that there is the same kind of blue wall of silence among prison guards as among police officers. “After we filed the Jane Doe complaint, you have no idea how many women came to our office for an interview. I had to cut one of them short. My eyes welled up with tears.”

As part of its discovery for Marshall’s lawsuit, Hamilton’s team reviewed the DOI investigation, and the lapses it turned up suggest shoddiness at best, a “cover-up” at worst, says Marlen Bodden, Hamilton’s co-counsel. According to documents submitted in court, the lead investigator, James Christo, failed to preserve video that captured movements in Buildings 9 and 11; never retrieved a CD purportedly including a jail phone call Marshall placed to Santiago (it was later lost); and didn’t read logs that should have noted Marshall’s comings and goings between Buildings 9 and 11. He questioned Santiago once, for five minutes; he didn’t interview any other officers.

Moreover, while Christo was investigating Marshall’s claims, a DOI colleague gave him a tip that a CO called Santiago (obviously there’s more than one at Rikers) had impregnated an inmate, but Christo never looked into it. “I just didn’t,” he said when asked why during his deposition. Nor did Christo speak with Jane Doe 1 after she reported Santiago in the midst of his Marshall investigation.

Hamilton also discovered that the DOI had heard about two similar complaints involving Benny Santiago but failed to look into either one. In 2007, an inmate reported to the watchdog agency that the guard was supplying inmates with contraband. In 2012, another alleged that Santiago was having sex with two detainees and that he’d filed a disciplinary charge against her to mute her.

As for the jeans, the DOI staffer who collected them said he immediately handed them over to Christo, but Christo contended that he didn’t get them for four days, disrupting the chain-of-custody accounting required for evidence. The jeans were still sent out for testing, which found no semen but did detect male DNA — a situation consistent, according to Marshall’s (unrebutted) DNA expert, with their having been washed. Christo, who still works for DOI, declined to comment for this story, and a DOI spokesperson did not dispute any of Hamilton’s assertions about the agency’s investigation, though the official did offer via email that “evidence handling procedures” have been upgraded.

Nearly 14 months after learning of Marshall’s allegation, the DOI closed its investigation, in June 2014, saying that it couldn’t confirm the young woman had a sexual relationship with Santiago because the semen test was negative and her memory of dates and other details was hazy.

Christo suggested that the Department of Correction consider disciplinary action against Santiago based on his “undue familiarity” with Marshall — she knew his contact information, used his phone, etc. But it took seven months for the DOC to begin looking into the matter (the two agencies argue over who had possession of her file during this time), and once again the process was almost ridiculously flawed. To cite the most glaring example, no one ever spoke to Marshall. The reason? Her Springfield Gardens neighborhood in Queens — where Marshall lived in transitional housing after being released from Goshen — was too “dangerous,” the DOC investigator said in a deposition.

In August 2015, the DOC closed its case without disciplining Santiago. According to DOC regulations, “undue familiarity” is grounds for termination, but the statute of limitations had expired. It had been more than 18 months since the alleged acts occurred.

Santiago returned to full duty in May 2016, though not at Rosie’s. Apparently the DOC had heeded one piece of advice from Christo: “Off the record,” he wrote in an email to his boss, “if [the DOC] is not recommending termination then they should put his ass back to work in a male facility.”

Timothy Ryan is a consultant who administered four large jail systems over his 44-year-long career, including Miami’s. In a scathing 51-page report he wrote after reviewing Marshall’s case for Hamilton, he said, “It is my opinion that the City’s practices show a callous disregard for legal requirements and … deliberate indifference by the City to the sexual safety and well-being of the female detainees for which it is responsible.”

The city’s own sexual-safety consultants, who interviewed Rikers officials, staff, and inmates, issued their own report in 2015 and came to similar conclusions, though in drier language. Specifically, the city had largely ignored a federal law called the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which has been in effect since 2012 and set standards for how penal institutions must facilitate the reporting of sexual abuse and ensure proper investigation of cases. The phone hotlines for reporting sexual misconduct didn’t work or weren’t confidential, the consultants found. Further, “no staff [at Rosie’s] were able to articulate either the proper steps needed to respond to a sexual-abuse allegation nor the ways to detect it may be occurring,” and Rikers employees openly admitted that they refused to cooperate with abuse investigations.

Fast-forward to this past March, when the DOC for the first time complied with the PREA requirement to make public detailed sexual-harassment and abuse complaints. The two years’ worth of data released is almost shocking in what it reveals about the ongoing level of sexual misconduct at Rosie’s — and the lack of will or way to protect female inmates. In 2016, there were 109 allegations, ranging from comments and gestures to groping, public masturbation, and rape; of those, 22 were declared unfounded, 16 unsubstantiated, and one substantiated. The remaining 70 are apparently still under investigation, notwithstanding the fact that PREA rules require investigations to be finished in 90 days. In 2017, there were 198 sexual-abuse and misconduct allegations, nearly double the number recorded the year before. Three resulted in false-accusation rulings, and three were unsubstantiated. The other 192 are still pending.

At a hearing on June 12, the DOC vowed, as part of what it called a “Corrective Action Plan to Expedite the Investigation and Closing of Sexual Assault Cases,” to boost the number of PREA investigators from 19 to 30 by January 2019. And DOC spokesman Jason Kersten declared in an email that the agency “is committed to preventing sexual abuse and harassment, and we are dedicated to investigating every claim based on our broad standards.”

It’s hard not to be skeptical about the rhetoric and the promises considering that DOC commissioner Cynthia Brann (then deputy commissioner) announced something very similar at a City Council hearing in December 2015: “We have a plan over the next two years to be able to implement PREA across the agency and have our facilities go through audits to become PREA compliant.”

That was two and a half years ago. And, to cut to the core of what’s still happening at Rosie’s, there were a total of 307 allegations of sexual misconduct made in 2016 and 2017 — 307 variations on Darcell Marshall. Eight-five percent of those cases haven’t been resolved. Of the 45 that have, the DOC decided in favor of the female complainant exactly once.

On the eve of trial in May of last year, the city settled with Marshall and Jane Doe 1 for $1.2 million. Santiago had suffered a stroke, his lawyer said, and couldn’t assist in his own defense. The Bronx district attorney declined to prosecute him (as it has so far for the guards in Spinelli’s case), which a spokesperson for the office, Patrice O’Shaughnessy, blamed on Legal Aid’s failure to cooperate with government attorneys. Legal Aid says that’s precisely the opposite of what happened. Marshall’s lawyers repeatedly asked the DA to interview the Jane Does but were rebuffed, Bodden says, and the one time a Bronx prosecutor did speak to Marshall — the assistant DA sat in on a meeting called by a federal prosecutor from Manhattan who’d taken an interest in the case — she treated her “not as a victim of crime but as an adversary.”

Marshall moved back to North Carolina and purchased a small home in Charlotte, for the first time living in a place where she couldn’t be locked in or out. She managed to get a job as a waitress at an Olive Garden, despite the fact that, in one of the ironies of her situation, she’s listed in public databases as a sex offender. Convicted sex workers typically aren’t given that designation, but it kicked in for Marshall because she pleaded guilty to trafficking, which she says she now regrets.

For company, Marshall has a puppy named Nagini, after the snake in Harry Potter. She sees a therapist for anxiety and PTSD and was hospitalized for three days over Christmas when she began feeling suicidal, bereft about the possibility that she’d never marry or have children, that she’d always be lonely.

When I spent an afternoon with her in March, her spirits had lifted. She’d become part of the local women’s-empowerment networking scene, she told me, and put in paperwork to launch a nonprofit for ex-prisoners, with a focus on former sex workers. Mostly, she was throwing herself into writing a book that she self-published in May, titled Confessions and Tips of a Black Girl Once Lost. “If this book gets into the hands of that one young girl who is what I was,” Marshall says, “that could change her life.”

Shortly after visiting her, I went to see Santiago, who lives in a two-story clapboard house near Kennedy airport in Queens. We talked on his front steps, with Santiago keeping one foot inside the door. When I started to question him about Darcell Marshall, he interrupted: “An inmate?”

I ticked off Marshall’s claims against him, and he told me none of it had ever happened. “False,” he said. “All lies.” He denied even knowing Jane Doe 1: “I work with so many inmates on the island.”

He repeated what his lawyer contended, that he’d agreed to settle with the Jane Does based on his health: “The doctor said, ‘You’d probably have a heart attack or another stroke if you took the witness stand.’ ” The stroke still affects his memory, he said, and he wasn’t pleased at the prospect of an article. “It’s over,” he said, before adding, “It’s not something I’m proud of.”

The guard no longer goes to work at the jail, and while a DOC spokesperson said he couldn’t disclose whether an employee was on disability or drawing on unused vacation time, he did confirm one thing: Benny Santiago continues to collect regular checks from Rikers. He’s still on the city’s payroll, and ours.

*This article appears in the June 25, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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