A spokesperson for the Department of Correction deferred questions to the Law Department, which declined to comment on the legal filing.
Rampant staff absences have plunged Rikers Island into disorder, advocates for detainees allege, causing hundreds of detainees to go without basic medical services each month. Recent data released by the city shows that the number of missed medical appointments by detainees jumped this year, despite a court order in December mandating expanded medical access for those incarcerated in city jails.
Family and attorneys for Yehudah say her death was a preventable consequence of the system’s lack of care. They allege that during her three months on Rikers Island, Yehudah raised repeated health complaints, including shortness of breath, chest pains, and need for dental care.
Those symptoms – combined with excessive weight and high blood pressure – should have pointed doctors to test her for diabetes, according to the notice of claim, which is typically a prelude to the filing of a lawsuit.
“Somebody’s light bulb should’ve gone off at some point,” said Fuchs, the attorney. “The fact that it wasn’t is attributable to the chaos, disorder, and deliberate indifference that goes on at Rikers Island.”
Mayor Eric Adams did not respond to a request for comment.
Last month, after the ninth death in city custody this year, Adams downplayed the death toll, noting that many detainees were already sick once they arrived in the city’s care.
“By the time people reach Rikers, their health has deteriorated,” Adams said. “Because Rikers didn’t give them heart disease, if that’s the reason they died. Rikers didn’t give them diabetes, if that’s the reason they died.”
“We look at the number,” he added. “But why did they die? You know, what conditions did they have before they came to Rikers Island?”
Yehudah was awaiting trial on a robbery charge.