One-on-one with Elias Husamudeen, new president of Correction Officers Benevolent Association

Posted: 6:30 PM, Aug 12, 2016
Updated: 2016-08-12 18:30:57-04

Elias Husamudeen is the new man in charge of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association and he's tasked with representing more than 9,500 members of the Department of Corrections.

Husamudeen joined the department in 1995 as an officer himself.

"The COBA has always been a force to be reckoned with," Husamudeen said.

COBA has long been known as one of the toughest and most powerful unions around. But they took a hit when longtime president Norman Seabrook was arrested on corruption charges in June.

Husamudeen was close to Seabrook, acting as his No. 2 in the union.

"Norman's arrest affected Norman," Husamudeen said. "COBA has been around for 150 years. Norman was our president. He was not COBA."

It is not easy for correction officers, as PIX11 News has been reporting throughout our "Inside Rikers" series.

In the past two weeks, two correction officers were assaulted -- one slashed in the face, another in the arm. A day after the second slashing, the city released new findings and numbers touting a decline in the total number of assaults throughout the city jails, saying their 14-point reform plan is working.

"In what society is it celebrated that only 609 officers of law enforcement have been assaulted?" Husamudeen said. "Broken jaws, eye sockets, slashed, broken arms -- what exactly are we celebrating?"

Just last week, PIX11 exclusively uncovered the case of an inmate who was able to use Facebook Live on a contraband cellphone and was seen holding a weapon.

Now, COBA is releasing images of more than 250 smuggled weapons that have been confiscated this year, highlighting a need for full body scanners inside the jail system, which right now is against the law. It's actually something the union and the Department of Corrections agree is needed.

"We have millions of dollars of equipment sitting there to catch these inmates as they bring weapons in their rectums, swallowing them and elsewhere," Husamudeen said.

However, it cannot be ignored that correction officers themselves are at fault for smuggling in both drugs and weapons. In May, a massive ring of 17  was taken down and arrested for a smuggling ring. At the helm was a correction officer.

"The department and the focus of the media always wants to be on the officers," Husamudeen said.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Joe Ponte has vowed to remove punitive segregation for 18- to 21-year-olds this year, but has requested four extensions so far with the Board of Corrections. Ponte said long-term punitive segregation has a negative effect on young people, whose brains are still developing.

Husamudeen disagrees.

"Taking punitive seg from a correction officer is like taking a gun from a cop and telling him to go and fight crime," Husamudeen said.

Husamudeen is now asking for Ponte to lead or leave.

"I called for the commissioner to be removed because there is no vote of confidence in him or his leadership," Husamudeen said.