RIKERS ISLAND, New York City (WABC) -- Authorities are investigating disturbing new claims that four corrections officers allowed an inmate at Rikers Island to try to take his own life.
The officers, three guards and a captain, have been suspended. The 18-year-old man survived but is now in a medically induced coma.
The incident happened last week, when authorities say the inmate used a piece of clothing to try to hang himself. The guards allegedly watched him for seven minutes before intervening.
Officials say the 18-year-old man was arrested on a parole violation in November. Authorities would not release his name, citing privacy reasons, but the Legal Aid Society, which is representing him, identified him as Nicholas Feliciano.
The Legal Aid Society announced later Wednesday evening that the pending parole warrant against Feliciano was canceled.
He reportedly got into a fight at the jail and was moved out of general population on the day he tried to take his life.
"Nicholas' tragedy illustrates the dangers and horrors of relying on our broken parole and correctional systems to address a mental health crisis," the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. "Despite his young age and known mental health history of past suicide attempts, Nicholas, who is 18 years old, was remanded to New York City jails - a system with a poor track record of managing suicide risks during incarceration - on allegations that have so far resulted in no criminal charges. Nicholas is still incarcerated, admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Elmhurst Hospital. Although Nicholas remains unconscious, a New York City Department of Correction officer sits by his bedside at all times and his family is only allowed to visit during scheduled hours and with DOC approval. His doctors and our Parole Revocation Defense Unit have called on the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision to release Nicholas from custody at once and to drop the parole violation given his critical medical health, as these constraints have already exacerbated his family's grief and anxiety around this tragedy. This outcome underscores the New York City Department of Correction's inability to safeguard the youngest people in its custody. It represents a colossal failure of supervision and leadership, one for which we demand answers before another New Yorker leaves the New York City jails in critical condition."
Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, disputed the claims.
"At no time did my correction officers stand for seven minutes watching an inmate attempt to kill himself," he said. "The camera is there. It shows it all. It shows it all. The only thing you can determine from the camera is you can make a judgement."
The Legal Aid Society also issued a letter to the Department of Correction demanding that it allow Feliciano's family unfettered access to him as medical staff struggles to stabilize his condition.
According to the family, despite the fact that he remains unconscious, officers continue to staff his hospital room and hold family to jail visiting hours and restrictions. They say his doctors have also contacted the city about the stress this has caused them and urged the city to reverse course.
The incident comes nearly two months after the NYC Council approved a plan to close Rikers Island within seven years and replace it with what officials envision as safer, smaller jail.
DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann released the following statement:
"The claims being made here are extremely troubling and we are taking them seriously. The safety and well-being of those in our custody is our number one priority and an investigation into this incident is underway. Three officers and one captain have already been suspended and if the outcome of the investigation warrants we will take appropriate disciplinary action up to and including termination. We have referred this case to the city's Department of Investigation which is conducting an independent inquiry."
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released this statement:
Out of deference to the family and at the request of various interested parties, the Department has determined it appropriate to lift the parole warrant on Nicholas Feliciano. This will allow the New York City Department of Corrections to remove their security detail from the hospital.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text TALK to 741-741 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org for free confidential emotional support 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Even if it feels like it, you are not alone.
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4 Rikers Island corrections officers suspended after inmate attempts suicide