City officials have fired a correction officer following the death of the eighth detainee at the Rikers Island jail complex this year, Department of Correction officials said.
“A preliminary review of this incident required that we take immediate action against the staff involved, and an officer was terminated,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina in a statement. A spokesperson did not specify how Elijah Muhammad, 31, died on Sunday, or what role the fired officer played.
The death rate at Rikers this year is keeping pace with last year, when 16 people died in city custody and public outrage heightened over conditions for incarcerated people. In addition to this year’s eight deaths at Rikers, two inmates died shortly after being held at the jails there; one after he hanged himself in a Bronx court lock-up, and the other at the Bellevue Hospital Prison Ward. The causes of deaths included suicides, drug overdoses, and untreated illness.
In the wake of the latest death, advocates once again called for a federal takeover of the jails at Rikers. A federal judge has postponed a decision on a possible federal receivership until at least November.
As news of Muhammad’s death was released, lawyers for Rikers detainees were in court arguing that the city should be fined for denying medical care to thousands of inmates. A judge previously found the DOC in contempt of court for failing to bring inmates to the infirmary when they’re injured or ill.
On Monday, city attorney Chlarens Orsland told a judge that officers are no longer failing to bring thousands of inmates to their appointments, but he acknowledged that some have been denied timely care because there is not enough space to securely hold detainees while they wait at the infirmary.
An attorney representing the detainees, Katherine Kelly Fell, said the city can’t keep arresting people and sending them to Rikers if it can’t properly care for them.
“It is simply not an answer to say we are going to continue to incarcerate all of these individuals on Rikers Island but we are not going to provide them medical care,” she said.
State Supreme Court Judge Elizabeth Taylor requested more detailed information from the city about missed medical appointments, and delayed until August a decision about whether to fine the city $100 for each missed medical appointment over the course of several weeks.