Mercado tested positive for COVID last week while at the infirmary at Rikers and died on Friday.
Mercado's girlfriend, Tammy Echevarria remembers his soft side.
"He was very loving, very loving and caring...he would talk to all the kids and take care of them and make sure they were fine. Even kids who didn't have dads, he would take care of them and make sure they had enough to eat."
Mercado became the 13th death in custody at Rikers Island. He was awaiting trial for weapons charges and criminal possession of a controlled substance. His bail was set at $100,000.
Echevarria spoke to him on the phone three days before he died.
"He was scared, and he didn't want to tell me because that's the type of person he is. He didn't want me to worry," she said.
Last month, Mercado's family and attorney argued for lower bail, knowing he was in poor health, afraid that this would happen.
On Thursday, he was transferred to Elmhurst Hospital as his condition worsened, and at noon on Friday, a judge granted his conditional release. About an hour later, he died.
Mercado entered the city's jail system at a time when conditions at Rikers rapidly deteriorated. It was dangerously overcrowded, filthy, and severely short-staffed.
"It didn't have to happen. And at the same time, knowing his medical condition wasn't all that great either," said Echevarria, "And to put him into a fire pit is the whole thing. For his age and his health condition - they killed him, they killed him."
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