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Family of Slain Rikers Inmate Nets $1.65M in Suit Assailing ‘Broken System’

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Casey Holloway, 35, was fatally strangled on Rikers Island in 2018.

Courtesy of The Holloway Family

The family of a man slain by a mentally ill fellow Rikers Island inmate has agreed to settle a lawsuit against New York City for $1.65 million, THE CITY has learned. 

Artemio Rosa strangled Casey Holloway on July 9, 2018 as the 35-year-old victim sat on a chair in the jail complex’s Anna M. Kross Center. 

Holloway’s family argued he would still be alive if jail officials had moved his attacker to a specialized unit for people with mental illness. Meanwhile, the de Blasio administration is behind on a promise to boost the number of mental health units to 12. 

The two men were housed in a Mental Observation Unit, according to Correction Department records. But Rose should have been transferred to a more intensive care area called the Program to Accelerate Clinical Effectiveness (PACE), the lawsuit, filed in September 2019, alleged. 

“Casey was killed because the City of New York failed to protect him from harm — both by failing to control Artemio Rosa that night and by allowing a broken system for detaining mentally ill inmates to remain in place for years,” the family’s lawyer, Josh Kelner, said in a statement to THE CITY. 

Holloway’s “family hopes the city learns from what happened here so that it never happens to anyone else again,” he added. 

In April 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to dramatically expand the number of PACE units for people in jail with severe mental illness. His administration set a goal of 12 units by the end of 2020. 

Ten are in place and the final two are pending with no public deadline, according to Jeanette Merrill, a spokesperson for the city’s Correctional Health Services, which oversees medical care for people behind bars. 

City Off PACE

The city has long struggled to expand the number of specialized units for people with mental illness. 

In April 2019, when six of the units were operating, de Blasio administration promised to meet its goal, THE CITY reported

PACE units offer daily counseling and multiple programs, as well as more robust medical care than the mental observation units. Staff in the PACE units also strongly encourage inmates to take their medications, and monitor whether the meds need to be adjusted.

The suit filed by Holloway’s family alleged that the city has left “nearly all” inmates with serious mental illness in inferior mental observation units. 

The entrance to Rikers Island on Hazen Street in Queens

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

There were 814 people with serious mental illness in city jails, out of 5,336 inmates, as of Jan. 24, city records show. The PACE units cover 207 patients, according to Merrill. 

A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department also did not respond to a question about the settlement. 

Holloway, who was asthmatic, struggled to breathe and collapsed after a guard yanked Rosa off him, according to Correction Department records.

Rosa pleaded guilty to strangulation and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was in jail facing criminal mischief and assault charges at the time of the attack.

Holloway, an aspiring music producer, was homeless for several years, according to his family. He was raised in Chicago by a grandmother and an aunt after his mother died when he was young. He was in jail facing robbery charges.

Settlements Grow

In August, the family of Layleen Polanco, who died from a seizure in solitary confinement on Rikers Island, agreed to settle a lawsuit against the city for $5.9 million. The settlement tied to the June 7, 2019 death was a record for an inmate’s death in a New York City jail, THE CITY reported. 

Polanco, a transgender woman, was being held on a $500 bail. Her death spurred local and national calls to ban the use of solitary confinement. De Blasio vowed in June to eliminate the practice, but a formal plan has yet to be approved. 

Layleen Polanco in a photo from 2012.

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The number of personal injury claims against the Correction Department has exploded over the last decade, from 1,188 in fiscal year 2010 to 3,750 in fiscal year 2019, according to the city Comptroller’s Office. 

Payouts over that period have spiked from $5,025,429 in 2010 to $24,701,935, the comptroller’s claim report shows.

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