A former detective with the Augusta Police Department has been hired to lead a unit charged with investigating gang activity at New York City’s Rikers Island, a hire that has drawn fire from former corrections officials.
The New York Daily News reports that Matthew A. Clark will lead the 50-person intelligence unit within the New York City Department of Corrections. That unit is charged with tracking gang activity, making arrests for crimes committed behind bars and tracking down inmates mistakenly released early from the city’s 11 jails, eight of which are located on Rikers Island, according to the newspaper and the Department of Corrections.
He will be paid $175,000 a year, the Daily News reports.
Clark comes to New York City after serving 15 years at the Augusta Police Department, where he left in May 2014 with the rank detective sergeant, according to the Augusta Police Department. He graduated from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in July 1999 before going to work with the Augusta police force, according to the BDN archives.
The decision has drawn scrutiny since Clark was hired by Corrections Commissioner Cynthia Brann, whose husband, Keith Brann, served as Clark’s boss at the Augusta Police Department until Clark’s departure in 2014, according to the Daily News. Brann, a detective lieutenant, retired from the Augusta police force that same year.
A spokesman for the New York City Department of Corrections told the Daily News that Commissioner Brann knew Clark “only as an acquaintance,” saying Brann as a veteran Maine police officer has “a wide circle of acquaintances.”
The spokesman added that Keith Brann did not make a “formal” recommendation for Clark, according to the newspaper.
Former staffers in the intelligence unit expressed skepticism about Clark’s qualifications for the post, telling the Daily News that the hire looked like “undue influence.”
“We’re in New York City. Our population is 8 million people. You can’t find anybody in the city who knows about gangs who is willing to work here? You gotta go to Maine?” a former corrections officer told the New York newspaper.
In fiscal year 2018, there were 12,047 reported assaults inside New York City jails, which have a combined population of 7,000, according to the Daily News. That compares with 469 reported assaults in 2018 in Augusta, which has a population of about 18,500.
Deputy Chief Jared Mills of the Augusta Police Department told the BDN in 2014 that the city sees members of gang networks pop up in the state capital, but said that he’s seen no “entrenched” gangs.
Brann, who was appointed as commissioner in October 2017, defended Clark’s hire, telling the Daily News that “he stood out as the top candidate for this critically important job.”
This is just the latest hire in what the Daily News called a “Maine to New York City pipeline.”
Joseph Ponte left his post as Maine’s corrections commissioner in 2014 to head the New York City Department of Corrections. Ponte, who was appointed as Maine’s corrections chief in 2011 by then-Gov. Paul LePage, was hired with a mandate to overhaul the city’s corrections system by ending the overuse of solitary confinement, curtailing officers’ use of excessive force and improving resources to handle the mentally ill, according to the BDN archives.
But Ponte resigned in May 2017 amid a series of scandals, including accusations that he improperly used his city-issued vehicle for personal travel and spending months away from the city at his Maine home.