Former inmate: Gangs, guards ran Rikers Island ‘fight nights’

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NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 31: A man enters the road to Rikers Island on March 31, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — A former inmate of Rikers Island is speaking out about the jail complex’s “fight nights,” where he says he and others were forced by gang leaders and corrections officers to attack other inmates.

Dominic Nelson said he was given compensation to fight in the form of cigarettes, drugs and food from an officer, NewsNation Local affiliate WPIX reported.

“The last incident that I had I knocked a guy out and I peed on him and the (corrections officer) paid me to do it,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he participated in these fights from June until December of last year. After telling a corrections officer in December that he would no longer participate in fight night, Nelson said several days later he was attacked from behind and stabbed in the eye.

Eric Burse, an attorney with New York County Defender Services, said his client was one of eight men forced to fight inside the jail.

Nelson is now at home fighting his charges, as a Manhattan judge decided it was not safe for him to remain to Rikers Island, Burse said. Nelson has been in jail since Oct. 2020 after his arrest on attempted murder and denies the charges against him. When WPIX spoke to him, Nelson was at the Bellevue Hospital Prison Ward.

A surveillance video recorded inside Rikers Island shows inmates crowded around a cell where one of these reported fight nights was happening in October 2021.

In the surveillance video, Burse said, inmates appeared to be cheering and “throwing their arms up in the air as if it’s some kind of Vegas boxing match.”

When New York City’s Department of Corrections was asked about the fight nights by WPIX, they said they remain fully committed to creating a safer and more humane environment in the jails.

“We are operating in an impossible environment and deserve more credit for the lives we protect and save every day,” The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association told WPIX News.

At least 16 inmate deaths have been documented at Rikers Island in the last year alone, sparking numerous protests.

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