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New York: $225,000 Settlement for Prisoner’s Suicide Attempt, Abuse at Rikers Island

In July 2012, the City of New York paid $225,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged 17 causes of action arising “from a chain of disturbing events” that involved the treatment of a mentally ill prisoner at Rikers Island.

When Robert Fecu was booked into the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers, it was well known and documented that he had a history of mental illness, including bipolar disorder and suicide attempts prior to his incarceration. An April 15, 2009 medical screening and order by the court for a mental examination put jail staff on notice of Fecu’s mental health condition.

Despite that information, on July 13, 2009, a guard accommodated Fecu’s request for a razor and allowed him to use it without supervision. Fecu attempted suicide by using the razor to cut his arms “on or near the bilateral antecubital fossa.”

Following a hospital stay for treatment, Fecu was housed in the Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates at Rikers with a September 18, 2009 directive that he be placed on suicide watch for the remainder of his time at the jail. However, his history of psychiatric problems and suicidal behavior did not result in proper care and treatment.

Fecu was denied his prescribed psychotropic medication and stopped eating on or around September 24, 2009. He went without eating through October 13, dropping from 218 to 180 pounds during that period, and jail officials allowed him to “remain without food or sustenance and medication” over that time.

On October 13, 2009 a guard once again fulfilled Fecu’s request for a razor. He used the razor to again attempt suicide by slashing his arms. Fecu was returned to Rikers Island sixteen days later and placed back on his medication regimen. He overdosed on pills on November 9, 2009 but rather than treat him or otherwise limit his access to an excessive amount of pills, he was taken off his medications.

Guards came to Fecu’s cell on November 15 and left him with nothing but “a bed frame, toilet, and his orange jumper.” The following day, several guards and “someone believed to hold the rank of captain” entered Fecu’s cell. He was pushed against a wall, put in an arm lock and stripped naked.

A guard used his arm to slam Fecu onto the bed frame and pin him there. Fecu was struck several times on the head. “While Fecu was down, one of the officers stuck their fingers up his anus,” the complaint stated. The guards laughed and taunted him before leaving him “naked, dazed and bleeding.”

A medical clinician saw Fecu in that condition and had him taken to the clinic. A group of guards, including those who had assaulted him, were there when he arrived. He was threatened not to report the beating and returned to his cell. The clinician again had him brought to the clinic, and he was taken to “urgicare” where he received 8-10 stitches.

Fecu was subsequently released from Rikers but reincarcerated in early May 2010.
Despite his past mental health history, he was placed in general population. On May 5, 2010 he attempted suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet in his housing area’s bathroom. He lost consciousness and required extensive medical treatment, but survived.

In a subsequent lawsuit against the City of New York, Fecu raised federal constitutional and state law claims. The city’s $225,000 settlement, including attorney fees and costs, was reached on July 12, 2012. Fecu was represented by Brooklyn attorney Brett H. Klein. See: Fecu v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (E.D. NY), Case No. 1:10-cv-04615-RJD-JMA.

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Related legal case

Fecu v. City of New York