When they were both 15 years old, Nijere Stewart loved walking on stilts and Clyde Wiggins enjoyed recording music before they would experience alleged sexual abuse at Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brownsville that they said forever changed their youth.

Law firm Levy Konigsberg LLP on Thursday announced it has filed a total of 250 civil lawsuits since April, including 100 this week, on behalf of people formerly detained at youth detention centers, all of them alleging sexual abuse by guards, counselors and other staff members.

The lawsuits are made possible by the Gender Motivated Violence Protection Act, a 2022 law passed by the City Council creating a two-year window allowing past survivors of sexual abuse to pursue civil actions at any time until March 1, 2025.

Allegations of sexual abuse have long persisted within the New York City system of incarceration. Last month, the city shelled out $1.6 million to a man detained on Rikers Island who was abused by a physical therapist. Last year, hundreds of women filed rape lawsuits against the Department of Correction.

Jerome Block, partner at Levy Konigsberg, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and Councilmember Alexa Aviles (D-Brooklyn) were joined by survivors of the alleged abuse and youth and justice advocates at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Tuesday to denounce and address the “culture of secrecy” that they say allows abuse to persist. 

Clyde Wiggins speaks at Brooklyn Borough Hall about being sexually abused while staying at a juvenile facility in the city.
Clyde Wiggins speaks at Brooklyn Borough Hall about being allegedly sexually abused while staying at a juvenile facility in the city, June 13, 2024. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“The number one change that needs to take place is the culture. The culture has to be that the juvenile justice system is to educate, it's to rehabilitate, and it's to set kids on the right path and the kids have to be valued and protected,” Block said at the press conference. He alleged that clients had been raped, forced to perform oral sex or other sexual acts, threatened and manipulated at Crossroads, which is run by the Administration for Child Services .

“If there's not a change in culture, then this is going to continue,” said Block.

He added that there should be neutral parties in the facilities that youth can approach to report any wrongdoing.

In a written statement to THE CITY, ACS spokesperson Marisa Kaufman said the agency does not tolerate sexual abuse and harassment, and that it is committed to following through on a 2003 federal law to eradicate prisoner rape in all types of correctional facilities.

“ACS has a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual abuse and sexual harassment of youth in detention and we are committed to the prevention and elimination of sexual abuse and harassment through compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act,” said Kaufman, adding: “Earlier this year, we implemented an updated Prevention, Detection and Response to Sexual Misconduct in Secure Detention policy. We will review all filed lawsuits.”

‘An Innocent Kid’

Stewart, 30, said police arrested him after officers found a gun under the staircase of where he and his friends were hanging out in his Crown Heights apartment building, noting that the weapon didn’t belong to any of them. He said he was sexually abused, beaten and starved at Crossroads Juvenile Center.

“I went from an innocent kid with straight A’s, loved to play with my brothers, walk stilts in Crown Heights,” said Stewart at the press conference, before he became “traumatized and ashamed as a teenager because of the nightmare I had to go to live every night from adults who were supposed to protect you.”

His petition alleges that around 2008, “a male staff member at Crossroads routinely abused the power of his position and sexually abused” Stewart.

Today, Stewart, a father of three, still walks stilts and teaches others in his community how to do the same.

After spending five months at Crossroads, Stewart said returning to society was difficult for him, but encouraged others to speak out.

“I didn't want to interact with people like that. It was kind of rough, like mentally, physically,” he told THE CITY. “Going forward, I just be talking about this, encouraging people who been abused to come out. It don’t matter who you are.”

Wiggins, 34, said he was “at the wrong place, at the wrong time, chilling with the wrong crowd” when he was charged with robbery in the first degree and sent to Crossroads, where he was detained for three years. 

Two young men spoke at Brooklyn Borough Hall about being the victims of sexual abuse while staying at a juvenile facility.
Two young men spoke at Brooklyn Borough Hall about being the victims of alleged sexual abuse while staying at a juvenile facility, June 13, 2024. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Basically people made us go somewhere where I wasn’t supposed to be. Police pulled up. It was a lot of stuff going on. I got charged. Everybody put it on me cause I was the youngest there,” Wiggins told THE CITY, noting that his peers encouraged him to take the charge because they thought he would not face any penalties being the youngest of the group and not having a criminal record at the time.

His lawsuit alleges that a female tutor repeatedly forced him to perform oral sex on her and that she bribed him with outside food and alcohol.

Wiggins, originally from Brownsville, said that before his detention he enjoyed recording music — but he struggled to return to that creativity after his release.

His 6-year-old son has helped renew that spark.

“He actually took the passion up for rapping. He be making his own little songs and stuff,” Wiggins said. “I’m finally finding the passion back with my son.”