New York Daily News: MANHATTAN –A Rikers Island detainee died after he slashed his own throat in a suicide attempt — and a preliminary investigation of the case led to the suspensions of three correction officers who didn’t do enough to try to save his life, officials and sources said.
Michael Nieves, 40, cut his throat about 11:30am last Thursday at Rikers’ Anna M. Kross Center, the sources said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he lingered on life support until he died Tuesday about 9:47pm.
Correction Commissioner Louis Molina said he ordered the three officers suspended immediately after a preliminary investigation. Sources said they looked on, rather than taking action to help save Nieves.
“This is a painful loss. 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,” Molina said.
It was the 13th death in 2022 of someone who had been in Correction Department custody, following 16 such deaths in 2021 — a set of circumstances that has led to calls for a federal takeover of the jails.
Nieves had been repeatedly found unfit to stand trial and placed in state psychiatric facilities multiple times after his initial arrest in April 2019.
A judge finally sent him to Rikers, where he arrived June 8, the Correction Department said. Nieves was placed in a mental health unit supposedly with better supervision and training than in general population. But critics said he should have remained in a special psychiatric facility.
Nieves slashed himself with a razor that jail employees issued to him so he could shave, said a Correction source. Normally, jail officials keep careful track of sharp devices given to detainees for personal use.
“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 Legal Aid Society said in a statement. “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.”
The society called Nieves’ death “avoidable” and noted parallels with the case of Nicholas Feliciano, who tried to hang himself in 2019 as officers watched for close to eight minutes before acting. Feliciano, 18, suffered severe brain damage. Three officers and a captain were charged in July in that case.
“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 [the Correction Department’s] care,” Legal Aid added.
Nieves was charged in 2019 with burglary, arson, unlawful imprisonment and other counts for an incident in a Harlem apartment.
Prosecutors alleged a woman was the apartment she shared with Nieves when he locked himself inside with her and blocked the door.
In a struggle, the victim was able to push the dresser away from the door, and Nieves allegedly went in the bathroom and started a fire using a lighter. He was arrested by FDNY fire marshals and police.
Records show Nieves was found unfit for trial in October 2019. He was placed in a state mental facility until May 2020 when he was found fit.
But another mental exam resulted in Nieves being sent again to a psychiatric facility, where he stayed until November 2021. He was found unfit again in March, and sent to a psychiatric facility yet again. After he was found fit again, Nieves was sent in June to Rikers.
At his last court appearance Aug. 1, a judge ordered Nieves to undergo another psychiatric exam.
The state attorney general and the city Department of Investigation will conduct probes of Nieves’ death.
The union representing correction officers says it will challenge the three officers’ suspension.
“While there remains an ongoing investigation into this incident, our officers will be provided the best possible representation to fight these suspensions and ensure their rights are protected,” said a statement from Benny Boscio, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.
Top Feature Photo: James Keivom/New York Daily News