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NYC negligent in death of man, 25, at Rikers, says mom’s lawsuit; case alleges jailers ignored his mental illness
The New York Daily News - 8/10/2022
The family of a 25-year-old man who took his own life in a city jail allege in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that Correction Department officials failed to treat his mental illness and then left him in a squalid intake pen for days where he was beaten and left in a locked shower stall.
Brandon Rodriguez hung himself in the shower stall on Aug. 10, 2021 — and his mother, Tamara Carter of Westchester County, learned about his death from a random Facebook post.
Rodriguez was one of 16 people to die in the jails in 2021, a grim statistic that has been followed by another 11 deaths so far in 2022.
“This I can’t fix and it kills me. I can’t take the pain away. Brandon’s death, we’ll never get over,” Carter said Wednesday outside City Hall. “The continued deaths are disturbing. Something needs to be done. Who do you hold accountable?”
Carter’s lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Federal Court, offers a chronology of events that took place after Rodriguez was arrested on Aug. 4, 2021 following a domestic dispute on Staten Island and brought to the intake section in the Otis Bantum Correctional Center on Rikers.
At the time, the Correction Department was reeling under the weight of severe staffing issues that were undermining basic jail operations.
During an earlier Rikers stay, Rodriguez was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression and mood disorders and given the medications Risperdal and Trazodone, the lawsuit alleges. He had also been previously attacked and stabbed close to 20 times in the same jail.
But when he arrived at Rikers in the summer of 2021, there was no initial mental health evaluation — a violation of city law, the lawsuit says.
The Correction Department “knew or should have known about his previous diagnosis during intake and documented it during suicide prevention; it was not documented,” the lawsuit alleges.
On Aug. 7, 2021, Rodriguez called a friend and complained he was still in intake beyond the mandated 24-hour limit, was sleep deprived and had been awake for days because there were no beds.
The next day, Aug. 8, bosses at OBCC were obliged to report that 41 people, including Rodriguez, had been in intake for more than 24 hours — also violating city law.
That same morning, Rodriguez was jumped and beaten. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital with a broken eye socket.
He was returned to the Bantum Center on Aug. 9 where a clinician with city Correctional Health Services finally gave him a mental health evaluation. But the clinician, identified in court papers as Marie Richard, failed to designate Rodriguez a risk due to his mental condition, nor did she prescribe any medication, the lawsuit says.
“I am feeling very anxious… was jumped in intake yesterday… brings back a lot of memories… I am asking for help because I cannot stay in intake,” Rodriguez told Richard.
Later on Aug. 9, officers put him in the shower stall – a jerry-rigged sort of punitive segregation area that was being used at the time in intake.
That also violated a city law where bars people with diagnosed mental conditions from being placed in segregation, the lawsuit alleges.
“Brandon remained in that shower cell for hours over the course of August 9th with no bed, chair, or furniture and still reeling from his orbital fracture and severe bruising that covered his body,” the lawsuit claims.
Correction officers and captains talked with him eight times from 5:30 p.m. through 12:10 a.m. on Aug. 10, but after that, there was no floor officer patrolling the unit for about 25 minutes, the lawsuit alleges.
Rodriguez used a piece of clothing to hang himself. Staff tried to revive him, but he was pronounced dead just after 1 a.m.
Carter’s lawyer William Wagstaff said the repeated encounters with staff showed Rodriguez was in severe crisis.
“I think you can draw the conclusion that he was communicating to them the same thing he had communicated to the mental health professionals: he needed to get out of there and they didn’t do anything about it,” Wagstaff said.
“The first opportunity he got when there was no one there he did what he probably was conveying to them he had intended to do which was to take his life because he could take it no more.”
Officials with the Correction Department and the city Law Department did not have immediate comment on the suit.
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