Three correction officers and a captain at Rikers Island were arrested Monday on charges that it took them nearly eight minutes to intervene in 2019 when an 18-year-old attempted suicide by hanging.
Nicholas Feliciano, now 21, tied two sweatshirts from the ceiling of his holding cell, authorities said. He twisted and flailed for about two minutes before losing consciousness. Several correction staff walked past Feliciano’s cell, but no one cut him from the noose or rendered aid. The man is still hospitalized after he sustained a traumatic brain injury during the incident.
“The defendants ignored their duty as Correction Officers to maintain custody, care and control of the person incarcerated, by allegedly waiting nearly eight minutes until they rendered assistance to the inmate whom they saw hanging,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, who is prosecuting the case.
The four — Captain Terry Henry, 37, and correction officers Daniel Fullerton, 27, Kenneth Hood, 35 and Mark Wilson, 46 — face reckless endangerment and official misconduct charges. All pleaded not guilty and were released without bail. They will be back in court on September 15th.
As a result of the indictments, Henry was placed on modified duty, which means he can’t carry a weapon and can’t have contact with detainees, according to the Department of Correction. Hood will be suspended, and Fullerton and Wilson resigned in February. After the initial incident in November 2019, the four had also faced 30-day suspensions without pay before they were moved to posts where they did not interact with inmates.
The union that represents correction officers released a statement calling the case “driven more by politics than facts,” and said the Bronx district attorney should focus on prosecuting incarcerated people who slash and stab other one another and officers.
Feliciano is in a rehabilitation unit at Bellevue Hospital, cared for by his grandmother, Madeline Feliciano, who has become an activist seeking to improve conditions at Rikers.
“This just shows how broken our jail system is,” Feliciano said at a City Hall rally earlier this month. “They took my grandson’s future away. Nicholas will never be the same.”
A report into the incident released last year by the city jails’ oversight agency, the Board of Correction, concluded: “[Feliciano] was hanging for seven minutes and 51 seconds in plain view of correction officers, other people in custody, and members of FDNY emergency medical services before [Department of Correction] staff cut him down.” The report found that Feliciano suffered brain damage due to prolonged oxygen deprivation.
The report, based in part on surveillance video, found that during the hanging, one officer was several feet away in a post that faced Feliciano’s cell, or pen. At one point, an officer opened the door of the cell, looked inside, and then closed the door and walked away. Minutes later, two of the officers “walked together around the perimeter of Mr. Feliciano’s pen looking at him, motionless with a ligature around his neck.” They then walked away.
Eventually, officers handcuffed Feliciano, and then untwisted the clothing he was hanging from.
“At that point, 11:49 pm., Mr. Feliciano fell to the ground in a slump on his knees after hanging for seven minutes and 51 seconds,” the report said.
An attorney for Feliciano, David Rankin, said in a statement on Monday that the city “is incapable of managing a humane jail.”
“These indictments are another example of the fixing sore that is Rikers Island,” he said. “Rikers Island is a disgrace to our city and needs to be shut down immediately.”
The jail complex at Rikers is scheduled to close in 2027. In the meantime, activists and defense attorneys hope a federal receiver is appointed to wrest the jails from city control.
The Board of Correction report detailed how Feliciano had a difficult childhood involving time in foster care and treatment for mental illness. He first tried to end his life by suicide at age 15. At 16, he was arrested for an alleged assault and robbery, and sent to Rikers Island, where despite alerting staff about his past psychiatric hospitalizations he was placed in the general population without mental health medication, according to the report.
At Rikers, officers failed to bring him to five mental health appointments, and his behavior unraveled: He got into multiple fights with other incarcerated people, and officers used force against him, including chemical spray, seven times, the report said.
During a second stint at Rikers on a burglary charge, Feliciano was placed in a mental observation dorm and put on suicide watch, the report said. After he was removed from suicide watch, Feliciano “harmed himself again by stabbing pencils and plasticware into his arm,” it said. During a third stint in city custody, he was found multiple times with cutting instruments in his possession, the report said. He also repeatedly slashed himself.
By the time Feliciano ended up back at Rikers in 2019, on a parole violation, he had undergone a suicide risk screening that determined he was the lowest possible risk — despite the fact that he told medical screeners about his history of mental illness and hospitalization.
Suicides have been a significant driver of deaths of incarcerated people at Rikers. Antonio Bradley died in June, the Daily News reported, eight days after hanging himself in a holding cell in the Bronx. The month before, Dashawn Carter was found dead, hanging in his cell. In all, 11 people have died in city custody this year or shortly after being released.
There were no suicides reported in city jails for four and a half years until November 2020, when Ryan Wilson died by suicide, according to the Board of Correction. There were five suicides in the year after that.
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.