Rikers Island inmate dies, second this week

Rikers Island inmate dies, second this week

Another incarcerated man died on Rikers Island, making him the second death in a week at the troubled jail complex and the 11th death in city custody so far this year, jail officials said Friday.

Michael Lopez, 34, was locked in a mental observation unit, according to the Legal Aid Society, which represented him. It’s unclear how he died. A spokesperson for the FDNY said EMS responders treated two unconscious people at Rikers Island on Friday morning. One person, Lopez, died; the other was transported to Bellevue Hospital.

The attorneys released a statement accusing Mayor Eric Adams, Correction Commissioner Louis Molina, district attorneys, and judges of being “responsible for these deaths,” which come as the jail complex faces intense scrutiny.

“Their continued decisions to send people into dangerous conditions, and inability to address the root causes of that danger, amount to a refusal to recognize our clients as human beings,” the attorneys representing Lopez added.

A spokesperson for Adams did not return a request for comment.

Molina said in a statement that he was “extremely saddened” by the death, which will be investigated.

“No one should have to experience the loss of a loved one while incarcerated and we are doing everything in our power to keep people safe and prevent further losses,” he said.

But the deaths keep mounting, at a number approaching the 16 who died after being held in city lock-ups in all of 2021.

Lopez had been accused of burglarizing Duane Reade and Target stories four times, which led to a felony trespassing charge, according to city records. He also had a misdemeanor assault charge. The Legal Aid Society’s statement says Lopez was held on “crimes of poverty” and “deprived of the services that he needed and deserved” while at Rikers.

A growing chorus of activists, defense attorneys, and former correction officials say the increasingly dangerous and deadly Rikers Island jail complex needs to be put under federal control through a receivership. Adams and Molina vociferously oppose losing control of the facility, saying they are implementing an “action plan” that will make incarcerated people and officers safer in the coming months.

At a rally on Thursday outside of City Hall, activists called for Rikers Island inmates to no longer be incarcerated and for the end of solitary confinement.

Lopez’s death marked the second one in a week on Rikers, following the death of Elijah Muhammad, a 31-year-old who died Sunday after spending more than 30 hours locked in a cell.

“I’m just so frustrated that after yesterday’s rally, we wake up to news of another dead incarcerated New Yorker,” said Anisah Sabur of the Halt Solitary Campaign. “Judges, prosecutors, and every elected official in the state and city need to act now. They need to release people immediately and use alternatives to incarceration because they cannot keep people alive on Rikers Island and in other city jails.”

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