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Tracking the Deaths in New York City’s Jail System in 2022

Twelve people have died after being held in New York City’s troubled jail system this year, even as officials have rushed to implement reforms to stave off a looming threat of a federal court takeover.

On Aug. 15, Ricardo Cruciani, 68, became the latest to die in the Rikers Island jail complex, succumbing to an apparent suicide attempt after he was found guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault last month. Although his lawyer had called for him to be put on suicide watch, Mr. Cruciani was discovered with a sheet around his neck and died about an hour later, jail documents show.

Long besieged by intractable problems, Rikers has been engulfed in violence and disorder since 2020, when a mass outbreak of coronavirus among correction officers hurt morale and led to chronic staff absenteeism. With so few guards showing up for work, some detainees have been forced to go without food or medical care. Sixteen people died in the jail system in 2021, the most since 2013. This year’s numbers are on pace to be higher.

Mayor Eric Adams and his jails commissioner, Louis A. Molina, have vowed to enact a reform plan that was ordered and approved earlier this year by a federal judge. But lawyers for the incarcerated have said that the city is incapable of keeping detainees safe, and they have called for an outside overseer to take control of the jails.

The following list of those who have died after being held in the jail system this year was drawn from Correction Department records and interviews with city officials and lawyers and friends and family members of the deceased. It shows that most of those who died were men and that overwhelmingly they were Black or Hispanic, reflecting the population at Rikers.

Aug. 15 — Ricardo Cruciani

Credit…Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Race: White

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Suspected Suicide

Jail: Eric M. Taylor Center

Arrest Date: Mr. Cruciani was admitted to Rikers on July 29, after being convicted at trial.

The Correction Department did not immediately respond to questions about Mr. Cruciani’s death or whether he had been placed on suicide watch, as his lawyer, Frederick Sosinsky, and the judge presiding over his trial had requested. After his death, Mr. Sosinsky called for an investigation and said that, to his knowledge, his client had never been placed on suicide watch.

Mr. Molina, the Correction Department commissioner, said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of this person in custody.” He said that the department would review the death.

Mr. Cruciani was being held in a general population dormitory that was understaffed, according to an official familiar with the matter, who, like some others interviewed about this year’s deaths, spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

A second official said that Mr. Cruciani had entered the shower area at 4:23 a.m. and was found unresponsive at 5:35 a.m. by an officer overseeing the housing unit.

The Crisis at Rikers Island

Amid the pandemic and a staffing emergency, New York City’s main jail complex has been embroiled in a continuing crisis.

  • Inside Rikers: Videos obtained by The Times reveal scenes of violence and offer vivid glimpses of the lawlessness that has taken hold.
  • Decades of Dysfunction: For years, city officials have presided over shortcuts and blunders that have led to chaos at the jail complex.
  • Deaths in Custody: The family of a deceased detainee filed a lawsuit relying on documents in which the city documented the way it struggles to care for people in its jails. Dozens more suits may follow.
  • Solving the Crisis: City officials, under pressure to put an end to the violence, had risked a federal takeover. A judge granted them more time to address the situation instead. 

July 15 — Michael Lopez, 34

Race: Multiracial

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Suspected overdose

Jail: Anna M. Kross Center

Arrest Date: May 18, 2022

Mr. Lopez, 34, had been held at the jail on $2,500 bail on burglary charges in Manhattan. Mr. Lopez had six open cases in Manhattan, including three burglaries from the same Target, three burglaries from the same Duane Reade and one assault case, records show.

Mr. Lopez had schizophrenia disorder and struggled with drug addiction, his mother Jennie Rosario-Megibow, 64, said in a recent interview. During his latest stint on Rikers, Ms. Rosario-Megibow said her son had never received any of the four medications he was on for his mental illness and she believes he overdosed in an attempt to self medicate.

July 10 — Elijah Muhammad, 31

Race: Black

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Suspected overdose

Jail: George R. Vierno Center

Arrest Date: June 8, 2022

Mr. Muhammad, who had been held at the complex on an assault charge, appeared to have been lying dead in his cell for hours before his body was discovered by correction staff members, according to two people familiar with the matter. The delay prompted the immediate firing of one rookie correction officer and the suspensions of others, one of the people said.

Mr. Muhammad had been receiving treatment for schizophrenia, according to one of the people with knowledge of his case. In the days before he died, he had spent more than 32 hours in isolation before being returned to a regular cell, a violation of department rules against holding detainees in so-called de-escalation units for more than six hours at a time. While in the isolation cell, Mr. Muhammad did not have a bed or access to medical care, the person said.

June 21 — Albert Drye, 52

Race: Black

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Unknown

Jail: Eric M. Taylor Center

Arrest Date: May 17, 2022

Mr. Drye died at the Bellevue Prison Hospital Ward, according to the Legal Aid Society, which was representing him. He had been held on assault, harassment and weapons charges in Manhattan and the Bronx, and had been seriously ill with an unspecified ailment and hospitalized for several weeks before his death.

Before he was hospitalized, he had been held at the Eric M. Taylor Center, where new detainees are assessed before being placed in jails.

June 20 — Anibal Carrasquillo, 39

Credit…Sheniqua Bryant Carrasquillo

Race: Multiracial

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Suspected overdose

Jail: George R. Vierno Center

Arrest Date: Sept. 27, 2019

Mr. Carrasquillo had been held on a $50,000 bail on charges including robbery, drug possession and assault. He was last seen alive shortly after 10 p.m. on a Sunday, a person with knowledge of the incident said. Shortly before 1 a.m. on Monday, a jail supervisor found him unresponsive in his cell.

June 18 — Antonio Bradley, 28

Race: Black

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Suicide

Jail: N/A

Arrest Date: Oct. 13, 2021

Antonio Bradley died three days after he was granted compassionate release to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, Correction Department officials said. Because he was released from custody before his death, the city does not include him in its official count of the deaths in custody this year.

Mr. Bradley, who had been held in a mental observation unit on Rikers, used his sweater to hang himself in a courthouse cell following a hearing in Bronx criminal court. A person familiar with his death said he had been hanging for several minutes before jail officers noticed him and that, by then, he was brain-dead. He died days later.

May 28 — Emanuel Sullivan, 20

Race: Black

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Unknown

Jail: Robert N. Davoren Center

Arrest Date: February 7, 2022

Mr. Sullivan was found in his bed by a correction officer, according to the Correction Department. He was being held on a second-degree murder charge and a first-degree robbery charge, records show. Correction Officials said that the housing area where Mr. Sullivan died was staffed and that tours of it had been conducted by correction officers throughout the day. Little additional information about his death has come to light.

May 18 — Mary Yehudah, 31

Credit….

Race: Black

Sex: Female

Cause of Death: Suspected Overdose

Jail: Rose M. Singer Center

Arrest Date: Feb. 11, 2022

Mary Yehudah, 31, was awaiting trial on a robbery charge when she was found unresponsive in her cell. She was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens but died the next morning. Lawyers for Ms. Yehudah said they had been trying to get her into a drug-treatment program.

May 7 — Dashawn Carter, 25

Race: Black

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Suspected Suicide

Jail: Anna M. Kross Center

Arrest Date: May 7, 2022

Mr. Carter was found hanging from a window in his cell just two days after being transferred back to Rikers from a state psychiatric hospital, according to a person with knowledge of the circumstances surrounding his death.

When Mr. Carter was returned to Rikers on a Thursday, mental health officials at the jail cleared him to be held in a general population housing area known as Quad Upper 12, according to the person familiar with his case. Mr. Carter was later found slumped over near his bed around 5 p.m. that Saturday, said Joseph Russo, the president of the union representing deputy wardens and assistant deputy wardens.

Mr. Carter had been charged with first-degree robbery and third-degree burglary, according to officials.

March 18 — Herman Diaz, 52

Credit…via Eduardo Diaz

Race: Hispanic

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Choking

Jail: Eric M. Taylor Center

Arrest Date: Feb. 22, 2022

Mr. Diaz’s death was detailed in a report from the city Board of Correction, a jails watchdog panel. According to the report, Mr. Diaz choked on an orange and was not assisted by a correction officer on duty, who was on modified duty and not permitted to interact directly with people in custody.

Mr. Diaz was carried to the medical clinic by other detainees and pronounced dead by medical staff at 10:58 a.m., about 40 minutes after he began to choke.

March 17 — George Pagan, 48

Race: Hispanic

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Sepsis, complicated by substance use and H.I.V. infection.

Jail: Eric M. Taylor Center

Arrest Date: March 9, 2022

Clearly ill, Mr. Pagan “regularly urinated, defecated and vomited on himself” during his nine days in custody, the Correction Board report stated.

Despite his condition, he was allowed to miss nine scheduled medical appointments in six days and placed in a general-population housing area where he was offered no food or drink other than what was provided to him by other detainees. It is unclear whether his condition was called in by a correction officer but eventually, other detainees carried him out of the unit to receive medical care. He is survived by a sister and brother.

Feb. 27 — Tarz Youngblood, 38

Race: Black

Sex: Male

Cause of Death: Overdose

Jail: George R. Vierno Center

Arrest Date: Sept. 5, 2021

Mr. Youngblood was inside another man’s cell — it was not clear why — when he became unresponsive. Other detainees carried him down a flight of stairs and attempted to provide him with medical assistance, the Correction Board report stated.

Video footage showed that correction officers did not conduct rounds at the intervals required in the hours before Mr. Youngblood’s death. He is survived by his domestic partner, their three children, his mother, his stepmother and his stepsister.

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