Rikers Guard Sues Over "Debasing" Strip Search

By Seth Ferranti 06/13/13

Strip searches are routine for prisoners, but prison guards see it as a breach of rights.

Elio Soto says the search was "debasing and
Photo via

It's well documented that corrupt prison staff are a major conduit for the drugs flowing into US prisons. But now a guard at Rikers Island in New York, who was forced to strip during a customary drug search while he was on duty, is suing the Department of Corrections, saying the strip search was "debasing and illegal." Elio Soto, who was not being specifically investigated for bringing drugs in, says supervisors ordered him to strip naked, squat and cough. The searchers found nothing on him. 

Soto is not alone among prison staff in objecting to such searches (which are of course routine for inmates, who undergo cough-and-squat procedures on a regular basis). "I wouldn't go for that," a correctional officer in Arkansas tells The Fix. "They would have to walk me off the compound. I'm not in prison, I'm a C/O. I got rights. If I can't be trusted, what am I doing working here?" So what does he think of Soto's suit? "He should sue them," the correctional officer says. "I've never seen that happen here, but you never know. I would like to think that our union would take care of that."

That's not to say that staff drug smuggling doesn't happen in our source's facility: "I have seen the FBI come right on the compound and arrest a guard that was bringing in drugs." He continues, "I don't know if I could work here if they tried to do that to me. I would probably quit on the spot. I need my job, but that's going too far." As authorities try to cut off the supplies of drugs in US prisons, cases like this might start occurring more often.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.