On December 12, 1997, 40-year-old Jeffrey Santos, a convicted felon with a lengthy criminal record, was arrested in Manhattan after a teenager accused Santos of theft. According to the teenager, Santos promised to supply a false identification card but instead took the youth’s money and failed to produce the card.
Santos was taken to the Manhattan Detention Center and while he was in the receiving area, he was accused of rifling the bag of an intake worker. He denied doing so, but was immediately removed to a holding cell.
Santos claimed that Captain Edward Lanza and another jail officer named Gonzalez came to the holding cell and cited him for an infraction. He said that when he objected, the officers beat him. He said that other officers arrived and that he was kicked and punched more than 60 times.
Santos said that at one point, Lanza stepped outside and ordered Gonzalez to punch him in the face. When Gonzalez did so, Lanza said, “That’s not hard enough. Do it again.” The second time, Gonzalez drew blood, Santos claimed.
Lanza and Gonzalez reported that when they told Santos he was being cited for attempting to steal from the bag, Santos came at them and began kicking and beating them.
Santos was charged with four counts of second degree assault and went on trial in New York County Supreme Court in October 1998. Lanza testified that as soon as he presented the notice of infraction, Santos swore and said, “I’m not signing no infraction” and slugged Lanza in the face. Lanza said Santos hit him several times in the face and that he required 8 stitches to close his wounds.
Gonzalez testified that he tried to help Lanza and tackled Santos. Ultimately, Gonzalez testified, he and other officers subdued Santos.
Santos testified and said he recognized Lanza from previous times he was arrested and brought to the Detention Center. He said that after he was accused of rifling the detention worker’s bag, Lanza took him down a long hallway and left him in a cell near a shower area. Santos said Lanza and Gonzalez returned later and when Lanza handed him some papers, he looked at them and Gonzalez sucker-punched him in the eye. He said that Lanza and Gonzalez, as well as other officers who came to support them, dragged him out of the cell and beat him. Santos said they used him “as a punching bag.”
On October 9, 1998, a jury convicted Santos of two counts of assault on Lanza and acquitted him of assaulting Gonzalez. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
More than two years later, Santos filed a motion for a new trial. In his motion, Santos alleged that after he was convicted, he discovered that Lanza was one of several guards at Rikers Island’s Central Punitive Segregation unit investigated for using excessive force on inmates.
The investigation showed that Lanza and others had engaged in extensive beatings of inmates and filed false reports to cover up their actions. Further, the investigation found that Lanza and the other guards beat each other to cover up their actions by making it look like they had been attacked. Six months after Santos was convicted, Lanza himself entered an “administrative plea” under which he lost of three days’ vacation and agreed to be retrained on the proper use of force.
On May 10, 2001, New York County Supreme Court Judge Dorothy Cropper granted Santos’ petition, vacated his conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge ruled that these earlier beatings undercut Lanza’s credibility. “What is disturbing about the new evidence is that the prior instances of misconduct are so similar to the circumstances of the present case,” Judge Cropper said.
Santos was released on bond in June 2001 pending retrial. On September 28 2004, Santos was acquitted by a jury.
Santos filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York for civil rights violations, and settled the case for an undisclosed amount in 2005. Santos also filed a lawsuit in the New York Court of Claims seeking compensation, but that suit was dismissed.
– Maurice Possley