Mom sues after suicidal inmate son kills himself at Rikers

AP News
|
Posted: Feb 11, 2015 5:02 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The mother of a suicidal New York City inmate who hanged himself in a Rikers Island solitary confinement cell in 2013 after repeatedly threatening to do so — and was even dared by one guard to do it — has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city.

Quannell Offley, who died Dec. 3, 2013, just days after using a bedsheet tied from an air vent to commit suicide, needed mental health treatment but was instead ignored, a lawyer for Desdemona Offley said Wednesday.

"It is hard to believe that in this day and age we treat our prisoners in this country so callously," said Paul Weitz. "He was begging to be transferred to a medical facility and they couldn't have cared less."

Offley repeatedly told jail guards that he was suicidal when placed in solitary confinement for fighting just weeks after being sentenced to four years in state prison on an attempted robbery conviction, according to investigative documents obtained by The Associated Press. The last time he did so a guard replied: "If you have the balls, go ahead and do it," the documents show.

The AP found in June that Offley's death was one of nine inmate suicides between 2009 and 2013 where city and state investigators determined that safeguards designed to prevent inmates from harming themselves weren't followed.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed in Bronx Supreme Court on Tuesday. Last August, Weitz filed initial papers seeking a $25 million lawsuit.

A Law Department spokesman says city lawyers are reviewing the lawsuit. Spokesmen for the Department of Correction didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

City officials have vowed to reform the 10-facilty Rikers Island jail complex, which came under increased scrutiny last year after the AP first reported the horrifying deaths of two seriously mentally ill inmates. About 40 percent of the roughly 11,000 daily inmates have a mental health diagnosis, officials say.

Offley, 31, was one of 11 inmates to commit suicide in the five years reviewed by the AP.

Last October, city officials announced they had secured a $400,000 federal grant to review suicides and acts of self-harm in city jails to identify systemic breakdowns.