Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Two Prisoners Stabbed, One Overdosed: Just Another Day at Rikers Island

by Jo Ellen Nott

On January 14, 2023, the violence at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex began early, when a guard saw one detainee slashed by others. In a separate incident later that day, a second detainee was stabbed in the chest. Plus, around midday, a prisoner in the medical unit overdosed.

It was just business as usual at what the New York Times in 2017 called “a place of exceptional violence.”

At 5:00 a.m. that morning, guards at the George R. Vierno Center watched as detainee Michael Bellevue, 23, sustained nonfatal injuries in a knife attack by three fellow detainees: Hafiz Ahmed, 23; Kamani Romain, 23; and Christopher Vazquez, 30. But somehow, no weapons were found when guards investigated the incident.

Bellevue was being held on a robbery charge. Ahmed is awaiting trial for attempted murder. Vasquez was previously charged with murder and evidence tampering. Romain has been detained since September 2022 on three counts of robbery. It is unclear if they have been charged with slashing Bellevue.

Then, around noon that same day, detainee Ozzborn Thomas, 33, was discovered unconscious and unresponsive in his bed at the medical complex. Jail medical staff administered Narcan to reverse his apparent overdose, and by 1:20 p.m. Thomas was able to breathe again.

Partially paralyzed from a 2017 Bronx shooting, Thomas has been at Rikers since February 2020 for allegedly joining a female accomplice to rape a runaway teen with a broom handle after first subjecting her to oral sex.

Finally, around 1:30 p.m. that day at the Eric M. Taylor Center, four detainees corralled another, 23-year-old Paul Grant, and stabbed him in the chest. A guard ordered them to stop, but they allegedly ignored the command. The assault ended only after they were doused with pepper spray. Again, it was unclear if any charges were filed against the four – Carlos Quinones, 50; Luis Rosas, 41; Franklin Santos, 23; and Carlos Correa, 33 – who are being detained at Rikers for assault and weapons violations. Their victim, who is at Rikers on drug, assault, menacing and petit larceny charges, was treated for nonfatal injuries to his chest, back and right arm. 

Despite operating under a consent decree in a long-running federal class-action lawsuit, the jail complex counted 19 detainee deaths in 2022. [See: PLN, Feb. 2023, p.28.] With an average daily population of 5,559, that put the year’s death rate at almost 342 per 100,000 – far exceeding the rate for large U.S. jails; those with populations over 2,000 recorded just 146 deaths per 100,000 detainees in 2018, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. [See: PLN, Aug. 2021, p.48.]

Additional sources:  Corrections1, New York Daily News, New York Times 

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login