New York jail watchdog seeks federal probe in Rikers inmate death

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2015 2:50 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state watchdog agency that oversees jails has urged the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the death of a mentally ill inmate who was found naked and covered in feces at Rikers Island, the New York Times reported late on Thursday.

Bradley Ballard was locked in his cell at the problem-plagued New York City jail complex and deprived of food, running water and insulin for his diabetes for six days leading up to his death on Sept. 11, 2013, according to news reports.

In its report, the New York State Commission of Corrections said the circumstances of his death "shock the conscience" and were the result of gross incompetence by medical workers, guards and Corizon Health, a private jail contractor, the Times said.

The report has not been made public and can only be obtained under freedom of information laws, a commission spokesman said.

Ballard's death is seen as evidence of the bleak conditions at Rikers Island, one of the nation's largest jail complexes. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office a year ago, has acknowledged its serious problems, including complaints of violent abuse of teenaged inmates by guards that are now the subject of a lawsuit against the city by the U.S. Justice Department.

The commission's report, dated Dec. 16, says that a warden, guards, doctors and other staff made at least 57 visits to Ballard's cell, where he had been sent for a parole violation, over the six days, the Times said, but did nothing to assist him.

His genitals became infected after he wrapped them in an elastic band. As the smell worsened, an officer sprayed deodorizer outside the cell but did not go in, the Times said.

An officer noted that Ballard was naked in his cell and having trouble breathing on the night before his death, the Times said. An hour and a half later two inmates were told to carry him out of his cell. His heart stopped beating at a jail clinic, and he was pronounced dead at a hospital the next day.

It is not known what happened to the staff involved in Ballard's custody and care.

"We continue to investigate and have adjusted our practices to ensure that a similar tragedy does not happen again," Joseph Ponte, the city's corrections commissioner, said in a statement.

The Justice Department and Corizon, the jail health contractor, did not immediately respond to questions on Friday.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Christian Plumb)