Four gang-affiliated Rikers Island inmates pleaded not guilty to gang assault charges on Monday after they were captured on surveillance video pummeling a correction officer so brutally they left him with a fractured spine, officials said.
Steven Espinal, Devin Burns, Nazeem Francis and Samson Walston — who are all under the age 21 and allegedly affiliated with the Bloods gang — appeared in court on Monday in the alleged attack on correction officer John Roston Souffrant, FOX5NY reported. Two other people, Eric Morris and Jeffrey Valdez, were also charged but have not been arraigned.
The six inmates were captured on surveillance camera approaching the 39-year-old correction officer Saturday evening before one, believed to be Espinal, delivered the first punch that knocked Souffrant to the ground. The five other inmates were then seen charging toward Souffrant’s body and stomping on him until other officers intervened.
The officers deployed pepper spray on the inmates to stop the brutal attack, according to FOX5NY. Souffrant was hospitalized in an Intensive Care Unit with a fractured spine and swelling to his brain. He was conscious and talking as of Monday.
Officials, who called the inmates “animals,” said Saturday’s attack was planned by alleged ringleader Espinal, who was allegedly angered after Souffrant issued an infraction, PIX11 reported.
“Burns and Espinal explained that they were going to assault this officer. And when they went into the day room they had a conversation prior to coming out of the day room and they assaulted this officer,” Correction Captain Johanna Banks said in a news conference.
The six inmates are reportedly awaiting trials on charges that include attempted murder, assault, attempted robbery and burglary.
Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, also told PIX11: “That officer was a good officer, did his job, he wrote this inmate a ticket. The inmate wasn’t very happy about the ticket and decided that he was going to … knock out this ‘super cop.’”
Husamudeen also placed blame on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who the union president said “does not have respect for law and order.”
A spokesperson for de Blasio said in a statement: "We'll get to the bottom of this heinous attack and hold those involved accountable. COs (correction officers) have one of the hardest jobs in city government—often thankless and always dangerous."