City investigators looking into an inmate’s sexual assault allegations on Rikers Island lost track of key biological evidence for four days before it surfaced with signs of tampering, court papers allege.
The inmate claims a Rikers correction officer sexually abused her in May 2013. She said she put his semen on her pants after performing a sex act on him — and then turned it over to city investigators as evidence.
A Department of Correction investigator collected the woman’s pants on May 10, 2013. But he and the Department of Investigation employee who ultimately took custody of the pants could not account for the garment’s whereabouts until May 14, when the NYPD received the clothing, lawyers in her civil lawsuit claim.
The woman and another inmate at the Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers sued the city and Officer Benny Santiago in Manhattan Federal Court in May 2015. Santiago, who has not been charged criminally, still works for the DOC. Neither woman has been named.
The city Medical Examiner tested the pants after the NYPD received them and didn’t find any semen.
“The city has argued at every step of this case that Jane Doe 2 was not raped because the Medical Examiner did not find semen on her pants,” lawyers for the women argue.
When an independent forensics expert for the women examined the pants in 2016, results “revealed the presence of male DNA from one man associated with RMSC, on the left, right and crotch areas of the pants.”
The presence of male DNA, despite the absence of semen, was “consistent with the semen having been washed off” before testing, according to the expert.
Although the evidence was marked “NYPD Biological Evidence Bag,” court papers say, “there is no writing on the bag that indicates when the pants were seized, when the pants were placed in the bag, where the bag was kept and for how long or who had access to it.”
The accused corrections officer, Benny Santiago, still works for the Department of Correction.
In addition, “the bag does not say ‘evidence collection,’ nor does it state any inmate’s name, or any book and case number,” the documents claim.
“The existence of Santiago’s semen on the pants would make Santiago’s denials of the abuse essentially impossible, and is evidence that would certainly affect the outcome of the suit,” the woman’s lawyers argue. “Evidence that the pants were tampered with before they could be tested to confirm the presence of Santiago’s semen would suggest a deliberate cover-up, which would clearly also affect the outcome of the case.”
“That the city did not maintain any chain of custody over the pants from May 10 to May 14 is a crucial issue,” the lawyers said.
The city’s own DNA expert didn’t take issue with the independent expert’s potentially damning findings, the court papers say.
Asked about chain-of-custody concerns, the city Law Department said: “The judge in this case said the issues raised concerning the evidence would be reviewed and decided at a later date.”
A DOI spokeswoman said “DOI does not comment on ongoing litigation.” The DOC said the agency “has a zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual abuse, and there is no place at DOC for the mistreatment of any inmate.”
Santiago’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. Santiago could not immediately be reached by phone.