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$5.75 Million Payout in Death of Rikers' Prisoner Denied Medical

by Lonnie Burton

In a settlement of a lawsuit previously mentioned in Prison Legal News, New York City agreed on September 27, 2016, to pay $5.75 million to the mother of a mentally ill Rikers Island prisoner who died on his cell floor in September 2013, naked and covered in feces. The settlement–yet another in a long string of multi-million dollar payouts to families of prisoners who died at Rikers–was the largest ever paid by the city in a prisoner-related lawsuit.

Bradley Ballard’s death was as tragic as it was preventable. At age 39, suffering from schizophrenia and diabetes, Ballard was arrested in June 2013 for a parole violation. He was sent to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue, where he stayed for 38 days before transferring to the mental health unit at Rikers. Soon thereafter, Ballard was placed on lockdown for dancing “inappropriately” in front of a female guard. According to the lawsuit, “not a single nurse, doctor, or other medical or mental health provider entered his cell” during his lockdown.

A week later, after being deprived of his insulin, psychiatric meds, and even running water, Ballard was found dead on his cell floor. Ballard’s genitals had also been self-mutilated.

The New York City Medical Examiner declared the death to be a homicide.

“This was a total system failure,” said Jonathan S. Abady, a lawyer at the firm of Emery Celli Brinkenhoff & Abady, who, along with the Legal Aid Society, represented Ballard’s mother in the lawsuit filed in federal district court in Manhattan. “I don’t think anyone can recall a case where the abuse and mistreatment was more egregious.”

Corizon Health, a private health care provider who contracted to provide medical care at Rikers, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but did not participate in the payout. A report issued by the city’s Investigation Department a year earlier blasted Corizon for routinely failing to provide adequate medical care to prisoners, two of whom--including Ballard--died. The report also found that Corizon had hired employees with severe criminal records for convictions including murder.

Corizon no longer provides health care services at Rikers, as Mayor Bill de Blasio let the city’s contract with Corizon expire in June 2015. Medical care at Rikers is now run by a city agency, NYC Health & Hospitals.

The settlement came amid a flurry of continued controversies surrounding safety and security at Rikers. Dozens of guards have been criminally convicted in recent years for charges ranging from assaulting prisoners to smuggling contraband. Lawsuits over other prisoner deaths at Rikers have cost the city another $10 million on top of the Ballard settlement.

In July 2014, the city paid $2.75 million to the family of Ronald Spear, a man beaten to death by Rikers guards. A few months later, the city agreed to pay $2.25 million to the family of Jerome Murdough, who died when the temperature in his mental health unit cell rose to above 100 degrees. And in November 2015, the city paid $5 million to two families whose relatives died in custody at Rikers.

Despite these other cases, the treatment Ballard received--or didn’t receive--rattled even the most hardened observers. A report issued by the state’s Commission of Correction said Riker’s staff’s treatment of Ballard was “so incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience.”

“Bradley Ballard’s death was a tragedy and our hearts go out to his family,” said Joseph Ponte, Commissioner of New York City Department of Corrections. “We have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of any inmate.”

Ballard’s mother, Beverly Ann Griffin, called the system a total failure, “an astonishing display on inhuman treatment.”

Abady said the fact that he won the largest such settlement in the city’s history was of no consolation. “There’s no victory or happy ending here.”


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