Why is CT’s Public Safety Commissioner Dora Schriro Being Criticized for “Outrageous Behavior”?

September 24, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

Connecticut’s public safety commissioner, Dora Schriro, was criticized in a New York Times editorial Tuesday for “outrageous behavior” in the performance of her pre-2014 job as New York City correction commissioner. The newspaper based the editorial on the Times’ Sunday revelation that Schriro used her authority as New York City’s commissioner of correction to order that critical comments about two key subordinates at the Rikers Island prison complex be removed from a 2012 internal investigation report.

The Times’ original story on the episode can be found here. The Courant’s Monday story about the situation, in which Schriro defended her actions, can be read here.

Tuesday’s editorial in The Times noted that correction department investigators’ original draft of a report included heavy criticism of warden William Clemons and the deputy warden Turhan Gumusdere for failing to include hundreds of prison fights in statistical reports on prison violence. The original draft recommended that both be demoted.

However, the editorial continued, “all this was expunged at the order of the corrections commissioner at the time, Dora Schriro, who not only ordered the scrubbing of information damaging to the two officials but promoted Mr. Clemons to assistant chief of administration, despite an internal investigation raising questions about his conduct. This outrageous behavior lends credence to the charge that the department historically protected and empowered people who were comfortable with misconduct and a deep-seated culture of violence.”

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield and Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, reacted to The Times’ story by issuing a statement saying: “Earlier this month, we raised questions about Commissioner Schriro not disclosing at her legislative confirmation hearing that the U.S. Justice Department was investigating the New York City Department of Corrections at the time she headed it. At no time did she or anyone in the Governor’s Office disclose the fact that there was a Department of Justice investigation into abuses at Rikers Island during her tenure. Our observations were dismissed as an attempt to score ‘cheap political points.’

“Three weeks later, we learn that Commissioner Schriro ordered edits made on a report about inmate fights at Rikers Island,” they said. “Commissioner Schriro then covered up for those who were responsible for making the omissions. Commissioner Schriro was the only person Gov. Malloy interviewed for this top public safety post. Gov. Malloy described Commissioner Schriro’s job interview as ‘one of the most fascinating interviews that I’ve ever had.’

“Did Commissioner Schriro disclose to Gov. Malloy that she ordered these edits? If she did tell Gov. Malloy, then why did he hire her? If she did not tell Gov. Malloy about this matter, then we hope he will first ask her why she failed to mention it and then ask for her resignation.”

Malloy’s director of communications, Andrew Doba, responded, “The accusations in this release are both reckless and patently untrue.”

He referred back to an earlier statement on the subject by Malloy’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, who had said: “While [Schriro] was aware of the Justice Department’s inquiry, she had no reason to believe that the findings of their inquiry would be problematic and therefore had no reason to raise the US Attorney’s report during her interview or the subsequent confirmation hearing. It should go without saying that Riker’s Island is a challenging place to manage and has been for almost 100 years. It’s also worth noting that according to published reports, inmate incidents have gone up more than 30 percent since her departure.

“No one leaves a job as challenging at corrections commissioner in NYC having accomplished each and every goal. But the fact remains that Commissioner Schriro led the [New York Department of Correction] through a period that saw both a greater emphasis on accountability among corrections staff and a greater focus on adolescence and the mentally ill, as the Justice Department report recognizes. Her work prior to joining the NYCDOC won accolades from national organizations, including her time at the Department of Homeland Security, and her qualifications for her current job speak for themselves.

“That some Republicans remain more interested in scoring cheap political points at the expense of the governor rather than focusing on how crime is falling at record pace is predictable. The work that Commissioner Schriro is doing – from her continued commitment to Project Longevity and other community safety initiatives this summer to her common sense changes to the consolidated dispatch proposal – is making residents safer. The Governor was and is immensely proud to have appointed the first female to serve as the state’s top first responder.”