NEW YORK (AP) — Four correctional officers at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail have been suspended without pay after they allegedly stood by and failed to stop a teenage inmate from hanging himself on Thanksgiving, leaving him hospitalized in intensive care.
Nicholas Feliciano, 18, remained unconscious in a hospital prison ward Wednesday, a week after he nearly died in his Rikers Island jail cell, according to the Legal Aid Society, the public defender organization that represents him in court.
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted the allegations that officers failed to immediately intervene in Feliciano’s suicide attempt are “deeply troubling.”
“The people in our jails are human beings,” de Blasio wrote. “Their well-being is our responsibility.”
Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann said in a statement the allegations were “extremely troubling and we are taking them seriously.”
The city’s internal watchdog said it is investigating.
Meanwhile, the Legal Aid Society succeeded in calling on authorities to drop the alleged parole violation that put Feliciano behind bars on Nov. 19, arguing that having him under constant supervision, with a correctional officer by his hospital bedside has “exacerbated his family’s grief and anxiety.” The parole violation was dropped Wednesday night.
The organization also questioned why Feliciano was put in jail in the first place, given his age and what it said was his known mental health history of past suicide attempts and the city jail system’s poor track record of managing inmates’ suicide risks.
No criminal charges have resulted from the alleged conduct that led to Feliciano’s jailing, the Legal Aid Society said.
“Nicholas’ tragedy illustrates the dangers and horrors of relying on our broken parole and correctional systems to address a mental health crisis,” the organization said in a written statement.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the guard failed to act as Feliciano hanged himself in a cell in view of a guard desk around midnight on Nov. 28.
The Times cited four people it said had knowledge of the matter but weren’t authorized to speak publicly. One of them told the Times that seven minutes elapsed before the guards intervened.
Investigators have obtained security camera video showing an officer going into the jail cell where Feliciano was, opening the door, closing it without going inside and then walking away, the Times reported.
Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said in a statement the officers would “be given the best legal representation possible to ensure their rights are fully protected under the law.”
City lawmakers in October approved a plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex by 2026 and replace it with four smaller jails. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has called Rikers “a symbol of brutality and inhumanity.”
The jail complex saw hundreds of stabbings each year during the 1980s and early 1990s.
More recently, a 2014 Associated Press investigation detailed dozens of inmate deaths including that of a homeless ex-Marine who essentially baked to death in a hot cell.
In June, a transgender woman who couldn’t afford $500 bail was found dead from an epileptic seizure while in solitary confinement.