The head of the city’s Correction Officers’ union vigorously defended the actions of Officers who were on duty when an 18-year-old tried to commit suicide and was gravely injured at a Riker’s Island jail late on Thanksgiving Eve.
Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, called accounts based on video footage that several Officers and a supervisor watched for up to seven minutes as the inmate, Nicholas Feliciano, hung from a pipe in his cell complete fabrications.
‘Someone is Lying’
“The video is going to prove that someone is lying,” he said. “There is no seven-minute video...of my members watching this 18-year-old trying to take his life.”
Mr. Husamudeen said Corrections Officers did as they were trained to do, which was to first assess the situation and then to act.
“My officers were there doing their job,” he said. “No one was lollygagging. When they noticed or realized what was going on, they responded, they took action,” adding that Correction Officers routinely stop inmates from committing suicide.
The New York Times, citing “several people with knowledge of the incident,” said Mr. Feliciano’s suicide attempt was captured on a video feed monitored by officers. The sources told the paper that another camera documented the officers’ inaction, including that of a supervisor.
Mr. Feliciano, who representatives at the Legal Aid Society said has a history of suicide attempts, eventually was taken to Elmhurst Hospital’s intensive care unit. As of Thursday afternoon, he was in an induced coma with no brain activity.
Three Correction Officers and one Captain have been suspended without pay, the Department of Correction’s Commissioner, Cynthia Brann, said in a statement.
“The claims being made here are extremely troubling and we are taking them seriously. The safety and wellbeing of those in our custody is our number one priority,” she said, adding that depending on the outcome of investigations the officers could be fired. The DOC declined to release the officers’ names.
The Bronx District Attorney’s Office said the city’s Department of Investigation was examining the incident. A spokeswoman for DOI confirmed that an investigation was underway but declined further comment on “an active matter.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said that agency was not involved.
Attempt Follows Fight
Mr. Feliciano was being held on a parole violation at the Anna M. Kross Center, Rikers’ largest jail, which includes mental-health units. He was brought to the George R. Vierno Center after, The Times reported, he got into a fight on the evening of Nov. 27 with several other inmates. He was injured seriously enough that jail officials sought to bring him to the jail complex’s infirmary. It is unclear why he was instead kept in the GRVC holding cell for several hours.
The Legal Aid Society, whose attorneys are representing Mr. Feliciano, said he was “still battling for life.”
The state Department of Correction and Community Supervision on Dec. 5 cancelled the parole warrant following a request by the Legal Aid Society’s Parole Revocation Defense Unit and his doctors. Up to that point a DOC officer was at his bedside “at all times,” while family needed DOC approval to visit during scheduled hours, the Legal Aid Society said.
Mr. Feliciano was taken into custody on Nov. 19 for violating the terms of his parole, by trying to buy a gun, failing to attend mandatory programming, testing positive for drug use and leaving the state without permission, the agency said. He had waived his preliminary hearing and was taken to Rikers.
“Out of deference to the family and at the request of various interested parties, the Department has determined it appropriate to lift the parole warrant on Nicholas Feliciano,” a DOCCS spokesman, Thomas Mailey, said in a statement. “This will allow the New York City Department of Corrections to remove their security detail from the hospital.”
COBA: ‘No Crime Here’
In a statement, Legal Aid representatives said that they were “relieved” by the warrant’s cancellation, which allows family to more freely visit with Mr. Feliciano.
“However, this does not abate our concerns over the New York City Department of Correction’s failure to properly screen and address Mr. Feliciano’s mental-health issues, which were known to the City at the time of his remand,” the statement said. “Moreover, this tragedy further underscores the need for Albany to enact comprehensive parole-reform legislation immediately next session to address cases like Nicholas’, where the alleged violation of parole does not rise to the level of a new criminal charge."
Mr. Husamudeen called on the DOC to immediately release any video footage taken around the time of the incident.
“Once this video is released, my officers will be defended strenuously,” Mr. Husamudeen said.
He blamed DOC officials for the incident, saying Mr. Feliciano should not have been remanded to the Anna M. Kross Center but to a specialized mental-health facility or brought to Bellevue Hospital’s Prison Ward, which is maintained by DOC.
“The reality is they need a scapegoat,” he said. “The blood has to come from someone. There’s no crime here.”