Sunday, April 7, 2024

NYC will pay $28 million to young mentally ill inmate who tried to hang himself

New York City has agreed to pay more than $28 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of Nicholas Feliciano, who suffered severe brain damage after he attempted to hang himself in a Rikers Island jail cell as more than half a dozen correction officers stood by, reported The New York Times.

If approved by a judge, it will be among the largest pretrial settlements ever to be awarded to a single plaintiff in a civil rights case in New York City.

Mr. Feliciano was 18 and had a long history of psychiatric hospitalizations and suicide attempts when he was sent to Rikers in late 2019 on a parole violation. When he tried to hang himself on Nov. 27 of that year, guards watched as he flailed his arms but did not intervene even after he became limp, video footage obtained by The New York Times shows.

The Bronx district attorney filed felony charges against three of the guards and a captain in 2022. Last year, two of the guards pleaded guilty to official misconduct, a misdemeanor, and avoided jail time. The cases against the captain and the remaining officer are pending.

For the past four years, Mr. Feliciano has received round-the-clock care, first at the Bellevue Hospital Center and then at a rehabilitation facility where he must use a walker to get around, said his grandmother, Madeline Feliciano, 57. He cannot eat without assistance, has short-term memory loss and struggles to remember visits with family and friends or the things he did the day before, she said.

The proposed settlement, Ms. Feliciano said, will help his family care for him at home. A final decision in the case could come as early as next week.

“It is not going to bring Nicholas back to who he was,” she said, adding that, at 22, “he has to live with this injury for rest of his life.”

A Correction Department spokeswoman said the agency has taken steps to reduce self-harm among detainees through renovations to housing areas, including the installation of fencing around units with multiple floors. She said officers are trained to prevent suicides and recognize signs of distress among mentally ill detainees and that specialists are assigned to people who have a history of trying to harm themselves.

But the New York City Board of Correction, a jails oversight panel, said in a recent report that many of the problems that had given rise to Mr. Feliciano’s case have only worsened.

Over the past three years, at least 18 mentally ill detainees have killed themselves or died of drug overdoses or other causes, records and interviews show. And the number of detainees with psychiatric needs has risen: About one in five people held on Rikers has some form of serious mental illness.

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