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New York: Nearly $10 Million in Settlements Over Denial of Medical Care at Rikers Island

On November 13, 2015, the City of New York entered into a $3.8 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the estate of a Rikers Island prisoner who swallowed caustic chemicals and died due to severe internal burns after guards denied him medical care.

Jason Echevarria, 25, incarcerated at the Rikers Island jail complex, consumed a “soap ball” containing caustic chemicals he had been given to clean his cell. As the chemicals began burning his digestive tract, he summoned guards, told them what he had done and requested medical attention. Jailers Raymond Castro and Angel Lazarte, and supervising guard Deon Brown, reported Echevarria’s condition to captain Terrence Pendergrass and recommended that he be referred for medical care. Pendergrass told them not to disturb him unless a prisoner was dead or they needed to perform a cell extraction.

As Echevarria’s condition worsened, the jailers repeatedly contacted Pendergrass who refused to authorize medical treatment. Echevarria was found dead the next morning; the cause of his August 2012 death was severe chemical burning of the intestinal tract.

As previously reported in PLN, Pendergrass was convicted on federal charges of denying Echevarria his civil rights. He was sentenced to five years in prison in June 2015. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.1].

Aided by New York attorneys Joshua D. Kelner and Robert S. Kelner, Echevarria’s estate filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York, Pendergrass, Castro, Lazarte and Brown. The city entered into a pretrial settlement for $3.8 million. Lazarte and Pendergrass did not take part in the settlement while Brown agreed to pay $2,000, for a total of $3,802,000. See: Echevarria v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:13-cv-04921-RMB-RLE.

In a separate lawsuit involving a mentally ill Rikers Island prisoner, New York City officials agreed to a $5.75 million settlement in September 2016. Bradley Ballard, 39, died in 2013 after he was placed in a segregation cell for six days, naked, without running water or his medication for diabetes and schizophrenia. The state’s Commission of Correction found that the care provided to Ballard by Corizon Health, the private medical contractor at Rikers at the time, was “so incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience.”

Following a damning report by the City of New York’s Investigation Department, the Corizon contract was allowed to expire in 2015 and was not renewed. According to the New York Times, the company declined to comment on the settlement in the wrongful death suit filed by Ballard’s family.

Ballard had been incarcerated for violating his parole by failing to report his change of address. He was reportedly put in segregation for dancing in a lewd manner in front of a female guard, and suffered from a severe infection after tying a rubber band around his genitals. His death was ruled a homicide. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.20; July 2015, p.1].

Ballard’s family was represented by the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP and the Legal Aid Society. According to the city’s Law Department, the settlement was the largest paid in a lawsuit involving the death of a prisoner in New York’s jail system. The $5.75 million settlement included $1.96 million in attorney fees and costs. See: Griffin v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:14-cv-07329-NRB.

Additional source: The New York Times

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Related legal cases

Griffin v. City of New York

Echevarria v. City of New York