When off-duty corrections officer Dion Middleton killed 18-year-old Raymond Chaluisant, the New York City Department of Correction’s culture of violence and depraved indifference to the lives of Black and Brown New Yorkers spilled onto the streets in the Bronx. Middleton shot and killed a teenager after being sprayed with a water gun and returned to work, telling his coworker about it without fear of judgment or consequence.
Following Middleton’s arrest, New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina issued a statement saying, “These very serious charges are in no way a reflection of the officers who work to keep our city safe every day.”
Except they do.
On July 15, 2022, Raymond sat in the passenger side of his friend’s Acura spraying water from an orbeez water gun, participating in what his sister described as a “neighborhood water fight” because it was a 90-degree day. When Raymond sprayed Middleton with the toy gun, Middleton pulled out a Glock 9mm and shot through the car window, into Raymond’s jaw, and killed him.
After shooting and killing the teenager, Middleton continued walking to his girlfriend’s house, took a shower and slept. He drove to work the next morning, where he was arrested after police tracked him using surveillance cameras. Middleton never reported the shooting, which is consistent with a prior disciplinary action against him for failure to report a use of force. Middleton told officers that he knew he should’ve called the police but instead, he “made a call to one of [his] peers … another instructor.”
As outlined in the criminal complaint and a lengthy video confession, Middleton knew it wasn’t a gun. He knew he had not been shot. He simply chose to shoot the teenager, stating, “I took my weapon. I shot.”
At least three times, he stated he “did not see a firearm.”
“And obviously, I wasn’t shot because I would be bleeding,” Middleton said during his confession. “I did not see a firearm at all.”
Molina may be wrong, but he is consistent regarding protecting and facilitating abuse in the DOC. Despite only being appointed by Mayor Eric Adams in January, Molina has stopped suspending officers for being AWOL and taking illegal sick leaves, which have been responsible for any perceived “staffing shortage.” He appointed Assistant Deputy Warden Wayne Prince, who has been under a two-year investigation for stealing time, to oversee the sick leave investigations.
Molina also fired the head of internal affairs and staff discipline when she refused to dismiss 2000 complaints against officers. He refused to share staffing data and briefings on safety and security with either the City Council or Federal Monitor; and secretly issued an internal memo loosening requirements for Captains’ responsibilities to tour facilities and check that cells are properly locked, amongst other things.
Also, Dion Middleton isn’t some miscellaneous corrections officer—he’s the officer responsible for training the others. Middleton has worked for the New York City Department of Correction for almost a decade, despite being disciplined for failing to report a use of force. He’s responsible for training all the officers on firearm use and safety— a job he’s paid $185,469 annually. Consequently, Middleton is an apt reflection of the officers employed by the DOC, as he is the one chosen to train and mold them.
When you realize that Middleton not only didn’t hesitate to shoot and kill a teenager for something so trivial and didn’t stop to call the kid an ambulance, you understand how, as of March, people incarcerated at Rikers have missed over 12,700 medical appointments.
Corrections officers declined to take them, preventing them from getting the medical care they needed and leading to some deaths. It helps us understand how what should be unimaginable tragedies, like 35-year-old Jose Martinez being left to die in his cell because officers refused to get him medical attention, become routine.
When you learn that Molina consciously loosened the requirements for officers to tour facilities and be at their posts and has refused to punish them for illegal sick leaves, you understand how numerous men have died at Rikers because no officers were at their posts or checked their cell for hours. A fact that becomes even more egregious when you realize there are about five officers for every three incarcerated people at Rikers. There are 5,600 people detained at Rikers and 7,575 corrections officers.
After you process that Dion Middleton is responsible for training others, it is less of a shock to learn that in June, a corrections officer at Rikers stood and watched Herman Diaz choke to death on an orange as his cellmates tried to help him and begged the officer to intervene. Last year 16 people died at Rikers, the highest total since 2013. Available information shows that 11 people have died so far this year.
Molina’s insistence that Middleton’s actions don’t reflect the other corrections officers are undermined by Benny Boscio’s, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, vigorous defense of Middleton’s conduct. Boscio stated, “our officer fired a single shot in a situation where he felt his life was in immediate danger, particularly after feeling something hit his back.”
He further stated, “Toy guns no longer resemble toys…and they remain an ongoing threat to public safety.”
Benny Boscio is not alone in the cyclical need to defend blatant police abuse. He was joined by the NYPD, who, following the news of Raymond’s killing, focused their attention on launching an online campaign against the toy water guns to blame and criminalize the victim.
The problem at Rikers is not a staffing shortage—it’s mismanagement, neglect, cruelty, and indifference to human life. Unfortunately, the murder of Raymond Chaluisant is just symptomatic of the more deeply rooted moral decay covering every inch of the New York City Department of Correction.
Olayemi Olurin is a public defender, movement lawyer, and political commentator in New York City.