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NYC Rikers Island misconduct investigations boss resigns over questions about lax excessive force probes

The Rikers Island jail sign in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/TNS)

The head of the New York City Correction Department’s Investigation Division — a key unit which investigates a wide range of staff misconduct — has stepped down over questions about his handling of probes into excessive force cases, the Daily News has learned.

Deputy Commissioner for Investigations Manuel Hernandez resigned Friday under pressure over decisions he made to close serious use-of-force cases without charging officers or after filing reduced charges, multiple sources said. Hernandez was appointed last May.

The Correction Department’s federal monitor has found a pattern in recent months of non-compliance, meaning its recommendations in cases where correction officers were demonstrated to have used excessive force on detainees have often not been followed

This week, the monitor, Steve Martin, is expected to release a previously secret report on the state of the jails, likely to include these findings.

Correction Department Commissioner Louis Molina fired Deputy Commissioner of Trials and Investigations Sarena Townsend at a time when the monitor had said longstanding problems in the disciplinary system including backlog and lack of penalties for serious misconduct were improving.

Townsend claimed she was fired for refusing Molina’s demand to close 2,000 staff use-of-force cases in four months.

Hernandez, 63, a retired NYPD lieutenant and military veteran, was Molina’s squad commander in the NYPD’s 6th Precinct when Molina worked there as a detective.

In May, Molina described Hernandez as a mentor and lauded his integrity. “I have full confidence that Manuel will enforce accountability in the agency,” Molina said.

In a post where he was supposed to be constantly on call, Hernandez was known to leave for his Putnam Valley home on weekdays by 4 p.m. and take weekends off, sources said.

“That is a 24/7 job,” said Maureen Sheehan, a former Correction Department deputy director of investigations. “You have to answer your phone.”

Hernandez was known to have had underlings sign off on investigative findings and discipline decisions for him.

For example, on Jan. 31, Hernandez’s office declined to charge any officers in the case of Herman Diaz.

Diaz choked to death on an orange in March 2022 while no correction officer patrolled his unit and after a security booth officer declined to provide medical assistance. Rather than sign off on the decision himself, Hernandez had an assistant do it, records show.

Hernandez is the second high-ranking Molina hire to resign in two months. On Feb. 3, Joseph Dempsey, the deputy commissioner of operations, resigned after he was accused of sending a sexually explicit picture to a subordinate. His tenure lasted three months.


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