Video shows “fight nights” inside Rikers Island; inmate says gang leader forced participation

NEW YORK (PIX11) – Surveillance video recorded inside Rikers Island shows what attorney Eric Burse said was one of many “fight nights” inside the prison.

In the video, inmates are crowded around a cell, where Burse said the fight was taking place inside. He described the inmates as “cheering…raising their arms in the air like it was some kind of Vegas boxing match.”

The video was recorded in October 2021 and Burse told PIX11 News his client was one of eight men who were forced to fight inside the prison by a gang leader.

“You see a corrections office, just a female officer, on the floor [and] it’s clear she sees what’s going on,” Burse said. “At one point she kind of walked up to the chef and said, ‘Hey, that’s a little too obvious, calm down. “”

After watching the video and hearing his client’s testimony, Burse said a Manhattan judge ruled it wasn’t safe for him to stay on Rikers.

“She released him and now he’s home fighting his charges,” Burse said.

PIX11 News also spoke exclusively to Dominic Nelson from his bed inside Bellevue Hospital Detention Unit. Nelson has been in jail since October 2020 after his arrest for attempted murder. Nelson denies the charges and is currently fighting the case.

From June to December last year, Nelson said he attended Rikers fight nights, insisting an officer told him to fight.

“They would give us compensation like cigarettes or drugs or food and stuff like doing stuff to other inmates,” Nelson recalled. “The last incident I had, I knocked a guy out and pissed on him and the [corrections officer] paid me to do it.

Nelson says after telling an officer in December he would no longer participate in the night fight, he was attacked several days later from behind and stabbed in the eye.

He is still in the hospital recovering.

PIX11 News also spoke to Nelson’s attorney Ilya Novofastovsky outside Bellevue Hospital about the conditions on Rikers Island.

“Talking heads and officials have mixed, but the reality of the situation has not changed,” Novofastovsky said.

When the New York Department of Corrections was asked about fight nights, he told PIX11 News “we remain fully committed to creating a safer and more humane environment in our prisons.”

Mayor Eric Adams said he has full confidence in the new commissioner of prisons, Louis Molina, stating that “he’s going to be hiring staff so that we can go around Rikers Island in a very humane way and I have the greater confidence in its ability to do so.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association told PIX11 News, “We operate in an impossible environment and deserve more credit for the lives we protect and save every day.”

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