Lawsuit filed over inmate's death in NYC cell

AP News
Posted: Sep 10, 2014 2:54 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The mother of a mentally ill and diabetic New York City inmate who died after spending seven days locked inside a Rikers Island jail cell filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the city.

Beverly Ann Griffin said her 39-year-old son, Bradley Ballard, was denied medication, ignored and neglected by jail guards and medical staff.

At a news conference at her lawyer's office, a sobbing Griffin read from a statement telling those who ignored Ballard they have to "live with what you did."

"When you took my son away from me, part of me died too," Griffin said. "I will never be the same again."

Though guards peered in Ballard's cell dozens of times during his extended lockup, they didn't venture inside until it was too late, according to investigative documents. They found him unresponsive, naked, covered in feces, with a rubber band tied tightly around his genitals. He was rushed to a hospital, where he later died.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, argues that Ballard's death was not an isolated incident and that city jails have been unfit to handle mentally ill inmates for decades.

The city's Law Department said it would review the suit.

The gruesome September 2013 death came six months before another seriously mentally ill inmate died in a 101-degree cell in a similar mental observation unit at Rikers.

The details of both deaths were first reported by The Associated Press. The AP stories prompted lawmakers to call oversight hearings and elicited promises for reform by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed a task-force designed to overhaul the corrections system for the mentally ill.

About 40 percent of the roughly 11,500 daily New York City inmates have a mental health diagnosis, officials say. About a third of them suffer from serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Ballard, who family members say suffered from schizophrenia, had been confined to his cell for seven days for making a lewd gesture at a female guard, according to interviews and documents obtained by the AP. For most of that time, the documents showed, he was not given his medication.

A medical examiner found the main cause of death was diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurs when people don't have enough insulin and the liver breaks down fat instead. His death was ruled a homicide and prosecutors are investigating.

Mental health staffers visited Ballard's cell only once before he was discovered to be in distress, the documents showed. None of the 53 officers who worked in the unit in the days leading up to his death had received a required annual refresher course on mental health, the documents showed.