19 People Have Died from New York City Jails in 2022

Erica Bryant Associate Director of Writing
Dec 12, 2022
Image courtesy of the #HALTsolitary Campaign.

Edgardo Mejias, 39, died on Sunday while jailed at the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island. He had been arrested under suspicion of shoplifting perfume and is the 19th person to die due to New York City’s abominable jails in 2022.

“Edgardo Mejias was delivered a death sentence without a trial,” said Freedom Agenda Co-Director Darren Mack. “What will it take for judges, prosecutors, and police to stop churning people through this death trap, and for the mayor to stop encouraging them?”

New York City’s jails, including Rikers Island, are a well-documented humanitarian disaster. In September, Gothamist published a report offering yet more evidence that Rikers is no place for human beings. Images depicted people caged in tiny showers, sleeping on excrement-smeared floors, and attempting chest compressions on the seriously ill because no medical care was available. They also showed people without access to functional toilets being left to suffer in their own feces for hours on end.

Yet judges and prosecutors continue to send people to these facilities to await trial. As of December 9, 2022, there were 5,869 people waiting for their day in court in the dehumanizing conditions of New York City jails. Of them, 1,077 had been waiting for trial for more than one year.

Learn how to reach out directly to your city council member and NYC Mayor Eric Adams and share your thoughts about these abuses.

Take Action: Abuses on Rikers Island must end!

Last year, 16 people died in New York City jails. Waiting to go to court should never be a death sentence. Every person who has died in New York City jails this year was a human being who deserved dignity and respect.

  1. Tarz Youngblood, 38, was a father of three. Corrections officers were not monitoring the location where he was held in the hours before he died. Four incarcerated people carried him out of a cell where he was found unconscious. They tried to administer aid, but he did not survive. Taylor Garzone, a forensic social worker with New York County Defender Services, described Youngblood as "a kind and well-intentioned man."
  2. George Pagan, 49, was held on Rikers Island because he could not pay bail of $1,006. He was clearly ill, with reports showing that he barely ate and spent his days lying in his bed or on the floor. During the six days before his death, he was not brought to nine scheduled medical appointments, nor was he given the medicine he was prescribed.
  3. Herman Diaz, 52, died after choking on an orange. Fellow incarcerated people tried to offer aid but were unable to do the Heimlich maneuver. They called for help, but no corrections officers arrived. "I want to know how long did it take for anyone with DOC to get to my brother to help him. Why wasn’t a CO there?” said his brother, Eddie Diaz.
  4. Dashawn Carter, 25, died by suicide after being transferred from a psychiatric hospital directly to general population housing on Rikers Island.
  5. Mary Yehudah, 31, was in custody at the Rose M. Singer facility on Rikers Island when she died of complications related to diabetes. Her family’s attorney states that she complained of heart palpitations and shortness of breath but did not receive appropriate medical treatment, and her condition could have been easily treated if the jail had done required medical tests. She had been awaiting trial for nearly three months when she died. “We ask that you continually keep us in your prayers,” wrote her sister.
  6. Emmanuel Sullivan, 20, was found unresponsive in his bed in a cell on Rikers Island. He had been awaiting trial for four months and had been due to appear in court the week after he died. “Enough is enough. I am so tired and devastated to hear about the death of Emmanuel Sullivan. It is beyond heartbreaking that we continue to hear about the many fully preventable deaths that have and continue to happen on Rikers Island," said Victor Pate, who was formerly incarcerated on Rikers Island and is now co-director of the #HALTSolitary Campaign.
  7. Anibal Carrasquillo, 39, was found unresponsive in his cell after his housing area in the George R. Viermo Center of Rikers Island. He had complained of chest pain, but corrections officers ignored him, according to incarcerated people who spoke to the Board of Correction.
  8. Albert Drye, 52, passed away in Department of Correction custody at Bellevue Prison Hospital Ward after having been held in Eric M. Taylor Center on Rikers Island. He was sent to the hospital six days after entering the jail. "We again call on elected officials, prosecutors, the courts and other stakeholders to facilitate the decarceration of local jails before another New Yorker has to spend their final moments confined to a cage in a facility grappling with a full-fledged humanitarian crisis," wrote the Legal Aid Society, which represented Drye.
  9. Antonio Bradley, 28, died by suicide at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx after sustaining his injuries in a courthouse cell. Three days before he died, he had been granted compassionate release.
  10. Elijah Muhammad, 31, died in custody on Rikers Island, prompting the immediate firing of a corrections officer who was involved in the incident. He had been receiving treatment for an unspecified mental illness and, in the days before he died, had spent more than 32 hours in isolation—a violation of department rules. While in isolation, he did not have a bed or access to medical care.
  11. Michael Lopez, 34, died on July 15 inside a mental observation unit on Rikers Island. He had been hospitalized on multiple occasions due to mental illness. The Legal Aid Society, which represented him, issued a statement following his death that said he had been caged for crimes of poverty. “Had Mr. Lopez been spared detention, he would have been connected to programming, and he would be alive today.”
  12. Ricardo Cruciani, 68, died by suicide on Rikers Island on August 15. He had been at the jail complex since July 29. His attorney and the judge presiding over his trial had requested that he be placed on suicide watch.
  13. Michael Nieves, 40, was removed from life support one week after attempting suicide. He was being held in an intensive care psychiatric housing unit due to serious mental illness. A captain and two officers were suspended after video revealed they failed to respond to his injuries for at least 10 minutes.
  14. Kevin Bryan, 35, died on Rikers Island, where he had been held on $5,003 bail. He was pronounced dead in the early morning of September 14.
  15. Gregory Acevedo, 48, died after jumping from the Vernon Bain Center on September 20. The barge in the East River, colloquially known as “The Boat,” has been used to imprison people since 1992, despite complaints of inhumane conditions that resemble those of a slave ship. “Once again, their system failed," said Warren Silverman, Acevedo’s attorney.
  16. Elmore Robert Pondexter, 59, suffered cardiac arrest at Rikers Island on September 18. He was granted compassionate release and died at Bellevue Hospital. Though his survivors say they are grateful he was released, they want the DOC to be held accountable for his treatment. “At first we were happy he died with dignity, and we knew he wouldn’t die a prisoner,” Aquandra Morris, one of Pondexter’s three children, told the New York Times. “But, then I thought about it—something is not right. They are trying to relinquish their responsibility.”
  17. Erick Tavira, 28, died on Rikers Island on October 22. He had been living in a homeless shelter when arrested and was held on $20,000 bail. “Mr. Tavira’s case underscores the inevitable outcome when incarceration is used in lieu of treatment,” said the Legal Aid Society in a statement. “Had Mr. Tavira had access to programming, today’s tragedy could have been completely avoided.”
  18. Gilberto Garcia, 26, died on Rikers Island almost three years to the day that he was sent there to await trial. He was pronounced dead at the Anna M. Kross Center at 12:50 p.m. on October 31.
  19. Edgardo Mejias, 39, died while jailed at the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island. During the two months he was incarcerated, he complained that he wasn’t getting proper medical treatment for his asthma, according to his attorney.

New York City needs to deliver on its commitment to close Rikers Island and end the persistent human rights abuses of its horrific jails. It also needs to invest in non-carceral public safety solutions—like affordable housing, education, and mental and physical health care—that heal the communities most harmed by mass incarceration. The city should:

  • Focus on decarceration. Mayor Adams and his administration should work with district attorneys, public defenders, judges, and other relevant criminal legal system stakeholders to help keep people from being detained on Rikers Island, instead diverting them to programs and services that address their underlying needs. These leaders should also gather relevant decision-makers to expedite case review and resolution, helping to ensure that people who remain on Rikers aren’t detained there any longer.
  • Expand alternatives to incarceration. Increase funding for evidence-based case management, treatment, rehabilitation, and other support services for people awaiting trial. These programs address root causes, often stemming from mental health or substance use issues, and ensure people show up to court without resorting to jail.
  • Invest in supportive housing. Increase funding for supportive housing that provides stability and helps maintain community safety.
  • Invest in communities. Invest in employment initiatives and other community-based services that connect New Yorkers with educational and economic opportunities.

It is past time for New York City to end the suffering and death on Rikers Island and in its citywide jails. Not one more person should die in horrific conditions while waiting for their day in court.