Almost four years after 18-year-old Christopher Robinson was found beaten to death in his Rikers Island cell, the boy’s mother, Charnel, will receive a $2 million settlement from the city, according to today’s New York Times. As New York contributing editor Geoffrey Gray wrote in the magazine last year, Robinson’s death was a sad case of bureaucratic inefficiency — his parole hearing had been rescheduled multiple times — and correctional abuse, with much of the ensuing investigation focusing on “the Program,” an inmate gang operated by several Riker’s correction officers, two of whom later served jail time. All the more tragic were the the circumstances under which Robinson had returned to Rikers: He’d taken a late-night stock boy position at a Staples in order to earn some money and rebuild his life after earlier assault and theft charges. Apparently, the job’s hours violated his parole.
Here, a re-creation of Robinson’s final moments, as reported in New York.
On October 18, after lunch had been served at One Main, three inmates entered Robinson’s cell. It’s unclear how they got in. Only one officer has access to the cell doors. This officer works inside the glassed-in security station on the housing area—the Bubble, it’s called. Every hour, inmates have “options” to either stay in the dayroom or their cells. The officer in the Bubble opens all cell doors for roughly five minutes so inmates can get their belongings. Inmates are not permitted to enter one another’s cells.
On this day, they entered. According to the police report, inmates “demanded [Robinson] pay a protection fee from his commissary fund, or they would beat him until he promised to comply.”
“One held his arms,” the report states. “The other two hit him in the chest until he fell unconscious.”
The officer on hall duty lingered near the entrance of the housing unit. The assault lasted ten to fifteen minutes, witnesses say, an eternity for a beatdown. An officer eventually entered the cell and administered CPR, to no avail. The medical examiner was called. When the NYPD forensics team arrived, they found the boy’s body lying in his cot, face up. His tan shirt was torn. His liver had been lacerated. One lung was punctured, blood surrounding it. He had been beaten so badly that a footprint could be seen on his chest. Meanwhile, detectives interviewed the detainees on One Main, many of whom were Bloods. If Robinson was a Crip, he had been housed in unfriendly territory. “The interviews,” the police report states, “reveal that two days prior [Robinson] had stated that he ‘would die before he would “get with it.”’”
And because Robinson would not get with “the Program,” they killed him.