A Rikers Island inmate died Tuesday evening after slitting his throat and bleeding out for 10 minutes as guards apparently watched him and did nothing, according to reports.
Michael Nieves, 40, passed away at Elmhurst Hospital at 9:47 p.m. on Aug. 30, according to the Department of Corrections. He became the 13th Rikers Island inmate to die in custody this year.
Three Corrections Department employees, meanwhile, were suspended as part of the ongoing investigation into Nieves’ death, Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina said Wednesday.
Nieves cut his throat with a razor inside the beleaguered jail as two corrections officers and a captain watched for at least 10 minutes as he bled out on Aug. 25, according to video recordings reported by The New York Times.
Medical staff brought him to the hospital where he was declared brain dead, and Tuesday evening he was taken off life support, the paper reported.
The agency did not confirm the report describing Nieves’ death, saying in a release that the cause was still under investigation.
“A preliminary review of this incident required we take immediate action and suspend three uniform staff members,” Molina said. “Any death in custody is a tragedy and we will be investigating the circumstances surrounding this incident.”
“Losing a loved one who is incarcerated is traumatic, and we send our deepest condolences to Mr. Nieves’ family and all those he held dear,” the Corrections chief added.
The Legal Aid Society, which represented Nieves, slammed the city and jail officials for the death.
“The reports that New York City’s uniformed correction officers stood idly and watched Michael Nieves, our client, end his life are infuriating and tragic, but not surprising,” the group’s statement read. “It is heartbreaking that a person with severe mental illness was not in a hospital receiving care, but was held behind bars at the mercy of such demonstrably callous and incompetent jailers.”
Nieves had been in custody since June 8 on a first degree burglary charge, according to DOC.
He was locked up at the Anna M. Kross Center, which houses a mental health facility.
The horrific death came less than two weeks after neurologist Ricardo Cruciani died from an apparent suicide at the lockup as he was awaiting sentencing for sexual assault and rape convictions.
The Legal Aid Society condemned Mayor Eric Adams for failing to get the crisis at the troubled jail complex under control.
“The Adams Administration has failed to respond to the gross incompetence of its staff and leadership with urgency and leadership, resulting in the shocking death toll on this Administration’s watch,” the statement read.
“The federal monitor described a similar incident last year, as well as other examples of truly grotesque disregard for human life by DOC uniformed staff and stunning breaches of basic correctional competence that precipitate such incidents,” the group continued. “That this week’s tragedy occurred in the unit of the jail that is ostensibly most trained and equipped to jail people with serious mental illness underscores the jail’s fundamental inability to keep safe the people in DOC’s care.”
Mayor Adams’ press office referred a request for comment back to DOC.
Comptroller Brad Lander, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and City Council Criminal Justice Committee Chairperson Carlina Rivera toured the jail Monday, saying it was showing signs of improvement.
But the three city pols also saw seven people held in conditions that looked like solitary confinement, even though the state has passed a law to limit the practice.
Rivera said the more than a dozen deaths underscored the need for the city to continue with its plans to close Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails.
“Losing 13 lives this year at Rikers Island confirms what many of us have said all along- that no administrative tweaks will ever substitute our ultimate and final goal of permanently closing Rikers and ending solitary confinement in New York City,” the Manhattan councilmember said in a statement. “The City and DOC must address its mismanagement of its current staff and provide the urgent medical attention needed in its facilities before it allows another preventable tragedy.”
Lander and Williams in a joint statement echoed Rivera’s call to move forward with closing Rikers.
“Our visit to Rikers earlier this week made clear to us that, despite some improvements from the nightmare we witnessed on the island a year ago, clearly conditions for people on both sides of the bars are neither safe nor sustainable,” they said.
“Those in charge of the wellbeing of detained people must be held accountable when the basic standards of human decency are not met. The City must renew and expedite its efforts to close the jail facilities at Rikers.”
Adams cast doubt on the schedule to close Rikers by 2027, since the population of incarcerated New Yorkers remains above the capacity of the smaller facilities planned for the boroughs.
Since Mayor Adams assumed office, enforcement against low-level offenses like petty theft and fare evasion have increased for the first time in nearly a decade, Bloomberg reported.