The battle against coronavirus was still in full-swing last summer when Correction Department brass called Bibi Suares — then warden of Manhattan Detention Complex — to Rikers Island for a mandatory training session.
Suares, a well-respected agency veteran with over 19 years on the job, left the downtown jail and drove to Queens as ordered. After the June 12, 2020 training, she says, Chief of Department Hazel Jennings pulled her into a room, sat her down and gave her an ultimatum.
“I’m not going to be able to keep you on as a warden anymore. You need to resign — and if you don’t resign, you’re going to be demoted,” Jennings said, according to Suares, who recounted the exchange to the Daily News during an interview in the shadow of the jail she was ousted from nearly a year ago.
Suares sat across from Jennings, stunned. As far as she knew, she had a sparkling record: she had not been written up or faced disciplinary charges as she rose up the ranks from deputy warden, to deputy-warden-in-command, to warden. Under her leadership at the Rose M. Singer Center, the department passed its first Prison Rape Elimination Act audit. She used her own money to help spruce up a special boutique for those behind bars. She had contracted COVID in March while working in the jails, yet still managed to procure 2,000 pieces of personal protection equipment from Florida for her staffers.
Roughly six months before Jennings demanded her resignation, she’d been tapped to turn around the troubled Manhattan Detention Complex — better known as The Tombs. Suares took the reins in January and during her roughly six-month tenure, the overall number of use of force incidents from January to April had decreased by half, agency data shows.
“I was shaken. I didn’t understand where this was coming from. There wasn’t like this big incident that took place that suggested something like this would happen,” Suares said of the June meeting. “I was persistent, I [kept asking her,] ‘Why is this happening?’”
Jennings repeatedly told her that as a warden, she wasn’t “entitled” to an explanation, Suares said. The chief eventually told her the reason for the demotion was simply that she “wasn’t engaged enough.”
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SOURCE: New York Daily News, Chelsia Rose Marcius