Rise in Rikers deaths sparks concern

Dan Krauth Image
Friday, November 18, 2022
Rikers deaths prompt new calls for federal control
7 On Your Side investigates found 18 inmates have died so far at Rikers Island since January. Dan Krauth has the story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- More people have died in custody at Rikers Island this year, than any year since 2013.

7 On Your Side investigates found 18 inmates have died so far since January. At least five of those inmates died of suspected overdoses and at least five inmates died from suspected suicides.

Now a group of attorneys from Legal Aid Society of NYC is asking a judge to have the federal government take control.

"It has been a few weeks and we still have a lot of unanswered questions, and that hurts," said Latoya Albedia. Her older brother Kevin Bryan died inside Rikers in September.

Bryan was inside the gated walls for only six days when the Department of Correction said he died by suicide. They found him inside an employee bathroom outside of the locked housing facility.

"We want some answers, I definitely want some answers and I definitely wouldn't want another family to go through this, it's devastating," said Albedia.

A new report out by an independent federal monitor says, "the conditions in the jail remain dangerously unsafe and the monitoring team remains gravely concerned about the alarming number of in-custody deaths."

The report states they're also concerned about the in jail violence against officers and inmates which 7 On Your Side Investigates has reported on repeatedly, and how the jail is being operated.

Officers are quitting in record number, including officers like Jonathan Suarez who resigned this summer.

"It's just hard to go over that bridge and do your job," said Suarez.

The councilmember who represents the district where the jail complex is located has been an outspoken critic.

"From the top down is gross mismanagement, from the top down," said Councilmember Tiffany Caban.

The Legal Aid Society, which represents many of the inmates, says the city has failed to make reforms and filed papers to try and get a federal receivership.

The mayor said the city is fighting that move and that the changes his commissioner is making are working.

"Let's run our city, we don't need the federal government to run our city, we can fix these problems," said Mayor Eric Adams.

The independent monitor's report also states the city is making progress. The report stated the city is "collaborating well" with them, they're "candid about problems," and "quick to admit to and rectify missteps." But the report also acknowledged that it is going to take a long time.

"The person who is looking over our shoulders, he is saying there are indicators we are moving in the right direction," said Mayor Adams.

For families like Latoya's, she's hoping it doesn't take much longer to learn more about how her brother died and why he was found where he was. They paid to have a private autopsy performed and they're still waiting on the results.

"There's more to the story that we don't know yet," said Albedia.

A judge could reject the Legal Aid Society's request to have a federal receivership, or could schedule a hearing for both sides to debate their case. An outcome could take weeks or months.

ALSO READ | Judge allows NYC to continue attempts to reform Rikers Island

The future of the Rikers Island prison complex takes center stage in a Lower Manhattan courtroom Thursday. N.J. Burkett has the story.



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