Death – Rikers death marks 16th inmate fatality in DOC custody this year

Death – Obituary

Another inmate on Rikers Island has died — adding to the growing tally of deaths in the troubled city jail system, the Department of Correction announced Wednesday.

William Brown — the 16th in-custody death this year alone — was found unresponsive at the Anna M. Kross Center around 10:45 p.m. Tuesday from an apparent drug overdose, according to DOC sources.

An officer conducting a tour of the facility found the 55-year-old on the dayroom floor, a common area where detainees watch TV, and rendered aid before medical staff and EMS officials arrived shortly after, internal DOC records show.

Brown was given CPR but could not be saved. Just before midnight, he was pronounced dead, the DOC said.

“I am devastated to know that another person entrusted in our care has passed away,” said DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi in a statement.

Rikers protesters
The man is believed to have overdosed.
Matthew McDermott

“We will work diligently to determine the circumstances surrounding his death. My deepest sympathy goes out to Mr. Brown’s loved ones.”

The exact cause of death is pending determination from the medical examiner.

Brown was locked up on Nov. 14 for a series of charges after he was caught allegedly stealing an air mattress, bars of soap, toothbrushes, shampoos, deodorant and earrings, court records show. In one of the busts, he allegedly swung a knife at a Rite Aid worker who confronted him about the stolen merchandise, landing him a felony robbery charge, the records say. Brown was also facing drug possession charges after he was allegedly caught with crack pipes on him, court documents show.  

The Legal Aid Society, which represented Brown, called his death “unconscionable” and “preventable”. 

“These deaths represent a failure by DOC to keep our clients safe and alive. Without systemic changes that address the criminalization of poverty and the underfunding of mental health services, as well as a shift from the default reliance on law enforcement to respond to a myriad of societal issues, these tragedies will only continue,” the group said. 

“We need solutions that strike at the root cause of these issues, including investment in preventive resources.” 

Rikers island
This death comes just a week after Rikers inmate Malcolm Boatwright died.
Getty Images

They called on state legislators to pass the “Treatment Not Jail” act, which would expand mental health services to serial criminal offenders like Brown. 

Last week, Malcolm Boatwright, 28, suffered a “medical issue” inside the Anna M. Kross Center and died at Bellevue Hospital, officials said.

The 16 deaths so far in 2021 is more than the last two years combined and the most since 2016, which saw 15 in-custody deaths, records show.

The jail system has been grappling with a crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, staff shortages and a ballooning inmate population that has created security concerns for staff and charges alike and has left many detainees without services.

Additional reporting by Craig McCarthy

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What Is An Obituary

In national newspapers an obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a prominent person. Although it tends to focus on positive aspects of the subject’s life this is not always the case. According to Nigel Farndale, the Obituaries Editor of The Times: “Obits should be life affirming rather than gloomy, but they should also be opinionated, leaving the reader with a strong sense of whether the subject lived a good life or bad; whether they were right or wrong in the handling of their public affairs.”

In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.