Video shows ‘fight nights’ inside Rikers Island; inmate says gang leader forced participation

Local News

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

On the video, inmates are crowded around a cell, where Burse said the fight was happening inside. He described inmates as “cheering … throwing their arms up in the air as if it’s some kind of Vegas boxing match.”

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

“You see a corrections officer, just one female officer, on the floor [and] it’s clear she sees what’s going on,” Burse said. “At one point, she kind of walks over to the leader and says, ‘hey, it’s a little too obvious, calm it down.’” 

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

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

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

From June until December of last year, Nelson said he participated in Rikers fight nights, insisting he was told to fight by an officer.

“They would give us compensation like cigarettes, or drugs or food and stuff like to do stuff to other inmates,” Nelson recalled. “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 after he told an officer in December that he would no longer participate in fight night, he was attacked from behind several days later and stabbed in the eye. He is still in the hospital recovering.  

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

“The talking heads and the people in charge got shuffled around, but the reality of the situation hasn’t changed,” Novofastovsky said.  

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

Mayor Eric Adams has said he has full confidence in new jails Commissioner Louis Molina.

“He’s going to staff-up so we can turn around Rikers Island in a very humane way and I have the utmost trust in his ability to do so,” the mayor said. 

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

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