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ITHACA, N.Y. — A woman, under penalty of perjury, said in court Friday that three Chenango County jail corrections officers violently attacked her after she made a formal complaint against an officer for being treated unfairly.
“For the remainder of my days (in jail), I was terrified they’d come do it again and jumped every time my cell door opened,” Ashley Pitre, 24, said about the alleged assault.
Chenango County Sheriff Ernest R. Cutting responded to the allegations, saying, “They were unfounded.”
Pitre was originally in custody at Tompkins County Jail in September for violating her probation. She was transferred to the Chenango County Jail at some point because the Tompkins jail was too full to house more female inmates.
In Ithaca City Court, Judge Scott Miller said Pitre wrote him a letter and he allowed her to read it on the record with the stipulation that she do so under oath.
He reminded her that lying under oath is against the law.
“If the statements in there are not true, you do subject yourself to perjury — a class D felony,” Miller said, offering her the opportunity to not read the letter or confer with her attorney Adam Abelson. She could face seven years in prison if convicted of perjury, Miller told her.
Pitre said she understood the consequences for lying and detailed the following narrative under oath:
Pitre was put into different housing at the Chenango County Jail because she was being reprimanded for using a bra as a hair tie while she exercised.
While in the separate housing unit, she says there were a variety of minor offenses committed against her, such as officers refusing to sharpen her pencil, slamming a door in her face and not allowing her to do laundry when other inmates were given the opportunity.
“I asked to write a complaint,” Pitre said and a corrections officer allegedly told her that writing complaints against officers was not allowed. Pitre pointed out a section of an inmate’s handbook that said she was allowed to write the letter.
After some mocking by officers, she says she was given paper to write the complaint.
Two days later, she said corrections officers entered her cell in the morning.
“A woman and two men, one man who was heavily set and about 6’5 came and grabbed me out of bed and slammed me into the wall. The woman began patting me down and the man kept yelling look forward which I was sure I was doing because due to the fact he kept slamming my head into the wall,” Pitre wrote in the letter.
The officers then handcuffed her, grabbed her by her hair and took her down a flight of steps while she cried.
She said she had to hunch over while she walked because and officer pulled her arms so far back and upward that it hurt her.
“…he would bump my heads into the railings saying sarcastic remarks “Oh I’m sorry did I hit your head,’” she wrote.
She says officers told her, “Stop crying. We haven’t hurt you, yet.”
Pitre was then strip searched by the female officer in the shower area while the male officers stood behind a wall.
When Pitre asked why they were treating her in such a way, an officer allegedly told her, “You know what you did.”
She was eventually taken back to her cell — which was being searched — slammed on her knees and forced to lean over the bed.
When she was released from handcuffs, an officer allegedly told her, “Stop fucking with us.”
Another corrections officer who heard about the attack against Pitre allegedly told her later that she should contact her attorney and write a complaint against the officers.
“She assured me she was one of the nicer COs,” Pitre said.
When asked by a sergeant at the jail about the incident — who inquired about making a formal complaint — Pitre said, “I was too scared to being that’s probably why they came to my cell.”
She was eventually transferred back to the Tompkins County Jail where she shared her story with officials at the jail and was not transferred back to Chenango County.
She said she has not had any problems with corrections officers at the Tompkins jail.
Chenango County Sheriff: “There was no physical altercation.”
Chenango County Sheriff Ernest R. Cutting said he was aware of the complaint and that the incident was looked into by his office.
“There was no physical altercation,” he said.
He said officers checked Pitre’s cell because she committed an infraction by tying her hair up with a bra while she exercised.
He also confirmed that officers had to restrain her against a wall in her cell because she kept turning around to ask what they were doing as they checked her room. He said inmates must face the wall in some instances for the safety of corrections officers.
“That’s when she was held to the wall,” he said.
Cutting said there are no cameras inside inmates’ cells and video from the incident was not reviewed for that reason. He also added that Pitre did not make complaints about anything that happened in corridors, such as having her hair pulled — something she confirms in her letter.
He also clarified that strip searches are also part of protocol for any inmate in custody.
Cutting said he was not aware of the extent of Pitre’s accusations and has not read the letter she sent Miller.
“We’ll take a look. Absolutely,” he said about whether the department would further investigate the matter and review video footage of corridors where Pitre alleges the incidents happened. “We’ll certainly look into any personnel complaints.”
Cutting, who has been with the sheriff’s office almost 30 years, said complaints from inmates are common but that as far as he can recall, corrections officers have not committed egregious acts against inmates.
“I’ve seen inmates make allegations obviously, but not under oath,” he said about Petri’s case.
A representative from the Chenango County District Attorney’s office said they were unaware of the complaint. The representative said District Attorney Joseph A. McBride was unavailable for direct comment Friday afternoon because he was tied up at an appellate court in Albany.
Tompkins County Assistant District Attorney Wendy Franklin — who prosecuted the case –said after court that she first saw the letter Friday morning and that any investigations into the case would come from the Chenango County District Attorney’s office.
She declined to comment further and Pitre’s attorney Abelson also declined to comment.
Officials from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department and jail have not returned requests for comment, as of Friday afternoon, about whether inmates are still being sent to the Chenango County jail when the Tompkins jail is at capacity.
Judge: “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
After the reading, Miller said, “I have a great, grave concern …that one of my defendants from Ithaca City Court could be subject to, what you described under oath, would have been an assault — a violent assault.”
“I don’t know whether it’s true or not,” Miller said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Around this time, Pitre told Miller that she saw a camera where the assault happened and that several other women witnessed the incident.
He said Pitre’s accusations would be investigated and that he would be forwarding her information to Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing and Captain Ray Bunce at the Tompkins Jail. Neither men work at the Chenango County jail.
“This is the start of that investigation,” Miller said. “Thank you for raising this issue on the record.”
Pitre was released from jail Friday afternoon on probation, with the promise that she intends to move to the Bronx and will be enrolling in college there.
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