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NYC’s Highest-Paid Corrections Captain Transferred Back to Rikers Island After Hell Gate Report

After lucrative freelance law-enforcement work, NYC’s highest-paid correction captain is back at work in NYC's chronically understaffed jails.

1:25 PM EDT on July 20, 2022

Captain Robert Ellis walks to his vehicle at the aftermath of a wild car chase in Brooklyn in April (Liam Quigley)

Throughout 2022, as more and more people died in custody on Rikers Island, and a judge threatened to wrest control of the jails from the city, the Department of Correction’s highest-paid captain was working for other agencies on a roving assignment that took him to the scenes of car chases and raids around the tri-state area, posted to federal task forces even as New York City paid his overtime.

Two weeks after we reported on Captain Robert “Bobby” Ellis and his nearly quarter-million-dollar salary in late June, the City transferred him back to Rikers Island. Ellis, and another colleague who was also transferred, had been assigned to the City’s Department of Investigation (DOI), and through that post, to a U.S. Marshals task force.  

A spokesperson confirmed to Hell Gate that Ellis was no longer assigned to DOI, and added that he would better serve the DOC.

“It is not uncommon for on-loan employees to DOI to be reassigned or transferred back to their home agencies, depending on the needs of all agencies involved,” DOI spokesperson Diane Struzzi wrote in a statement.

Since Hell Gate’s story was published, two more people have died on Rikers of suspected overdoses, bringing the death toll to 11 people this year, and 27 since the beginning of 2021; the deaths have been blamed in part on a lack of jail staff. The Daily News reported last week that contraband drugs have been blamed for the deaths of at least nine prisoners in the last 19 months—but not one correction officer has been suspended for smuggling contraband in 2022, despite DOI officials implying that they remain a likely source of drugs.  

According to a transfer document obtained by Hell Gate, Ellis is being assigned to the Eric M. Taylor Center, which is plagued by understaffing and where three people have died in custody this year.

As for how the transfers will affect DOI’s oversight of the DOC, Struzzi said these types of transfers are not uncommon, and that “DOI has no concerns about fulfilling its mission, or about oversight of that unit.”

However, Ellis is frequently named near the top of the list in numerous reports dating back to 2018 which credit work that led to the arrests of at least five Correction Department employees—often on drug smuggling charges.

Whether he’ll be able to focus more on the problem of corrupt Correction officers now that he’s back at DOC, or whether he’ll just be another body on post in a department hobbled by its employees' failure to show up to work, remains to be seen.

Ellis did not reply to a request for comment about the transfer.

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