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New York authorities raid Rikers Island jail in crackdown

By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City authorities raided Rikers Island and searched guards going in and out of the city's largest jail complex as part of a months-long investigation into drugs, weapons and contraband, officials said Tuesday.

The Monday afternoon sweep included searches of inmates and cells as well as guards, according to a statement from New York City's Department of Correction and Department of Investigation.

The raid focused on the George Motchan Detention Center, which houses 2,000 inmates at Rikers, where the average daily population is about 12,000.

It was unclear what the sweep turned up. Correction officials said the raid was prompted by information gathered during an investigation of violence and other illegal conduct.

More than a dozen officers have been arrested since the Rikers investigation began months ago and more charges are expected, the statement said.

The raid followed a string of problems at Rikers, including the 2013 arrest of two New York City correction officers on charges of smuggling drugs into the maximum security wing.

In March, a former senior guard at the jail was arrested on a federal charge that he deprived a mentally ill inmate of medical aid after he swallowed a corrosive disinfectant. The inmate, 25-year-old robbery suspect Jason Echevarria, eventually died.

A month earlier, Jerome Murdough, 56, a former Marine suffering from schizophrenia, was found dead inside his cell after being left in sweltering heat, an attorney for his family said. Murdough was being held on a charge of trespassing when he died.

His mother has filed a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

Following Murdough's death, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Joseph Ponte as corrections commissioner. Ponte has instituted new security policies to reduce a growing number of violent attacks on jail guards and health care workers and he has ordered a examination of training and safety practices.

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