Key events in year of scrutiny on Rikers Island

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 28, 2014 11:02 AM

New York City's massive Rikers Island jail complex has come under increased scrutiny in the past year following a series of reports by The Associated Press on gruesome inmate deaths, guard brutality and mismanagement. Investigations by other media and city, state and federal authorities have prompted further disclosures, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed reforms.

A timeline of a turbulent year at Rikers:

FEBRUARY

— Mentally ill former Marine Jerome Murdough dies after being left unattended for hours in a cell that sweltered to 101 degrees because of malfunctioning equipment. Murdough, 56, died a week after his arrest on misdemeanor trespassing charges. His family was not told of his death until nearly a month later when contacted by the AP.

MARCH

— After the AP reports Murdough's death, a guard is suspended, a warden transferred and a mechanics supervisor is reassigned. Advocates say the death points to failings in the criminal justice system for mentally ill inmates, and the mayor calls his death "very troubling." City lawmakers announce an oversight hearing.

— A city health department study obtained by the AP reveals that nearly a third of Rikers inmates who suffered a visible injury at the hands of guards received a blow to the head. The report details pervasive violence against and between inmates, including the high rate of head shots, a tactic that's supposed to be a guard's last resort because it can be fatal.

APRIL

— Longtime correction official Joseph Ponte begins as the new commissioner of the city's troubled correction department, coming from Maine where he is credited with reducing the use of solitary confinement.

MAY

— The AP reports the death of Bradley Ballard, a mentally ill inmate who died in September 2013 after being locked up alone for seven days. In that stretch, an increasingly agitated Ballard was denied his medication, flooded his cell, wrapped a rubber band around his genitals and was finally discovered dead, covered in feces. Dozens of guards and medical workers passed by his cell in that time, but none helped.

— Following an AP report that a work order to fix an excessive-heat problem on Rikers had been delayed, an attorney for Murdough's mother announces plans for a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city. AP also reports that a guard who was supposed to look in on Murdough had abandoned her post.

JUNE

— City and state investigative documents obtained by the AP reveal that safeguards designed to prevent vulnerable inmates from harming themselves weren't followed in at least nine of the 11 suicides at Rikers since 2009.

JULY

— An investigation by The New York Times documents the cases of 129 inmates seriously injured after altercations with guards in 2013. City investigators pledge to review the cases, many involving mentally ill inmates.

AUGUST

— The Department of Justice says in a scathing report that a 2 ½-year investigation has found widespread violence against and among 16-, 17- and 18-year-old inmates. The investigation lists 73 recommended reforms and gives the city 49 days to respond.

— The AP reveals that no criminal charges were ever filed against officers involved in the three fatal beatings of inmates since 2009 that were ruled homicides by the medical examiner's office.

SEPTEMBER

— Ponte proposes reforms, including eliminating solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-old inmates.

— Ballard's family files a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city.

— The Times reveals correction officials handed over underreported violence data to federal attorneys investigating conditions for teenage inmates.

OCTOBER

— Hundreds of documents obtained by the AP on in-custody deaths since 2009 raise questions about the quality and timeliness of medical care. A city lawmaker calls for an oversight hearing to examine health care in city jails, including the performance of the private jail health company contracted to administer it.

— The city announces it's been awarded a $400,000 federal grant to review suicides and acts of self-harm to identify systemic breakdowns.

— The city reaches a $2.25 million settlement with Murdough's family over his hot-cell death.

— The chief of the city's correction department and two top deputies announce they're stepping down.

NOVEMBER

— The city Department of Investigation reveals porous security at Rikers after an undercover officer posing as a guard smuggled more than $22,000 worth of contraband — including alcohol, marijuana and a razor blade — into facilities undetected.

DECEMBER

— The mayor announces a $130 million, four-year plan to overhaul the criminal justice system for people with behavioral disorders, diverting many away from jail to treatment. He also announces an end to solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-old inmates.

— Federal prosecutors say they are suing the city to speed up the pace of reforms at Rikers, joining another class-action lawsuit that similarly alleges widespread guard brutality.