Wrongfully fired Rikers CO wins legal fight to regain her job

The CO was canned two years after suffering an assortment of injuries when targeted by a pair of teen inmates


By Ellen Moynihan
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — While most folks on Rikers Island are eager to get out, Benita Sims fought her way back in.

The fired correction officer reached a June 19 settlement where the city agreed to reinstate her job, plus kick in more than $40,000 in back pay, after a legal battle over her dismissal last year, according to her attorneys.

In a June 20, 2014, file photo, the Rikers Island jail complex stands in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
In a June 20, 2014, file photo, the Rikers Island jail complex stands in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Sims, 40, was canned barely two years after suffering an assortment of injuries when targeted by a pair of teenage inmates inside the notorious facility. She even received three positive evaluations from her supervisors in the months after the painful June 20, 2016, assault.

“I was just (badge) number 6462," she told the Daily News about her firing. “They did not care about Benita Sims. They didn’t care about the officer who had got hurt by an inmate and who had stitches.”

Sims was working as support staff in 2016 at the Robert N. Devoren Complex, where juvenile offenders were housed. She had just escorted three boys, each shackled and fitted with thick mitts because of behavioral issues, to a classroom. The problems began when a teen in the adjoining room started screaming at the kids under Sims’ watch.

At that point, one of the boys in the classroom with Sims went after her — “he’s pushing, trying to hit me, I put my arm up to try and block him,” she recalled. “On the other side of me there was a boy sitting down, and at the time it hadn’t appeared that he had done anything. But when they rolled the videotapes back he’s the reason why I fell. I had the boy over me this way, and he actually snatched the chair.”

Sims injured her thumb, shoulder and foot when she landed hard on the floor. Subsequent MRIs in July and September showed ligament tears in all three locations.

Foot surgery followed in March 2017, and a second surgery four months later transferred bone marrow from her pelvis to repair her shoulder and thumb. There were steroid injections in her neck to deal with the pain of nerve damage from the fall.

Yet Sims showed up for work despite her health issues, fearful that she could face termination as still a probationary officer with less than two years on the job. Unable to drive because of a surgical boot, she took public transportation to work.

Sims, initially assigned to light duty, returned to full duty on Sept. 7, 2018. Three weeks later she was fired without any cause, and Sims remembers the ensuing walk of shame.

“Everybody’s looking at me as I’m being escorted out of the building, like ‘Ok, what did Sims do?’ and I’m like ‘I don’t believe this,'" she recalled. “I was talking to the union rep and he was just shaking his head."

The rep advised her to fight the firing and steered her to the law firm of Koehler & Isaacs. She returns to Department of Corrections headquarters for refresher courses on Sept. 3.

“I’m happy I have a job to go back to," said Sims. “ I’ve never been fired from any job in my life so to have this tarnishment on my name over something I did not do — I’m happy to have that cleared.”

©2019 New York Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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