NYC jail training chief quit after 9 days; Rikers unit he previously led was criticized for use of violent tactics

An ex-Rikers Island official who led its Emergency Service Unit at a time it was criticized for use of violent tactics quit his new post as head of the Department of Correction’s training program after just nine days on the job.

Herns Mitton said he left his gig running the agency’s training program on Sept. 16 because he could better train officers “outside the department.”

“I hope I didn’t let anyone down,” Mitton said in a nine-minute video he posted to Instagram. “After careful evaluation, I saw the need, that I am better off assisting members of this department independently outside of the department.”

After Mitton retired from the Department of Correction in 2020 as an assistant deputy warden and leader of its Emergency Service Unit, he set up a business that trains correction officers. He declined comment when reached by the Daily News.

Herns Mitton

Herns Mitton (Instagram)

Critics of the management of New York City’s jails wonder why Correction Commissioner Louis Molina hired Mitton to the top training post.

“Training is where an agency communicates its core values,” said Mary Lynne Werlwas, director of Legal Aid’s Prisoners’ Rights Project.

“For Commissioner Molina to place training in the hands of the former leader of the most violent and insubordinate command in DOC [the Department of Correction] is overt approval of ESU’s [the Emergency Service Unit’s] famed culture of violence and chaos.”

The News asked the Correction Department’s press office for insight into Molina’s thinking in hiring Mitton for the training post, but did not receive a response.

In a series of reports from 2017 forward — during Mitton’s time as a key member and leader of the Emergency Services Unit — the federal monitor assigned to track violence at Rikers Island found “unnecessary and excessive force” used by the Emergency Service Unit to quell

In at least six consecutive semi-annual reports, the federal monitor advised the Correction Department to sharply reduce its “over-reliance” on the Emergency Services Unit and “probe teams” that handle emergency situations, especially minor ones, because of their penchant to overreact.

In a 2020 report, the monitor noted ESU teams were “hyper-confrontational” and escalated violence when they are supposed to defuse it.

“When force is employed, ESU staff often utilize improper head-strikes, violent body slams and take downs,” the report said. “ESU staff’s default response is often exceedingly disproportionate to the level of threat.”

In a second 2020 report, the monitoring team again called out “ESU’s pattern of unnecessary and excessive uses of force” and said the unit was in violation of court orders.

In a signal of the importance of training in changing the situation in the jails, the word “training” appears 270 times in a monitor report filed with the court Dec. 6, 2021, records show.

Rules bar officers from continuing to serve in the Emergency Services Unit if they have pending use of force allegations or prior use of force discipline. But a review in 2021 of a period that overlapped with Mitton’s tenure found dozens had remained in the unit with pending cases or discipline, said Sarena Townsend, the Correction Department’s former deputy commissioner for trials and investigations.

The DOC’s new top training official abruptly resigned Friday just nine days after he was hired by Commissioner Louis Molina.

The DOC’s new top training official abruptly resigned Friday just nine days after he was hired by Commissioner Louis Molina. (Todd Maisel/New York Daily News)

“It got to a point in 2021 when the monitor said the department is violating its own policies,” Townsend said. “There were many, many officers either facing use of force charges or had pleaded guilty to use of force.”

Mitton retired on July 31, 2020, as an assistant deputy warden making $226,098 a year. As the department’s top training officer, Mitton would have made at least $175,000 a year. Mitton continues to receive his pension, which the public records website SeeThroughNY says is $144,038 per year.

DOC Commissioner Louis Molina

DOC Commissioner Louis Molina (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

“Herns Mitton served the department with distinction for 24 years before he retired,” said Joseph Russo, president of the Assistant Deputy Wardens/Deputy Wardens Association union. “He is an excellent choice to oversee training or for any other management position.”

The Correction Department remains under scrutiny by the federal monitor, with a key hearing in federal court coming in November. At the top of the agenda will be whether a federal receiver should directly take over jail operations.

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