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New Death Rocks Rikers Island as De Blasio Targets Correction Officers’ Union With Huge Fines

Isaabdul Karim, 41, died on Rikers Island Sunday night. He was held on a parole violation.
Isaabdul Karim, 41, died on Rikers Island Sunday night.
Courtesy of Legal Aid Society

An ailing man who spent 10 days mired in a Rikers Island intake center died amid crushing staff outages that spurred Mayor Bill de Blasio Monday to seek a $1 million daily fine against the union representing correction officers.

The city’s lawsuit landed a day after Isaabdul Karim, 41, became the 11th detainee to die this year at Rikers, which has been roiled by fatalities, rising self-harm incidents and inhumane conditions lambasted in recent days by local politicians and a federal monitor.

On Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the “Less is More” Act, which limits the re-jailing of certain parole violators and ordered the release of 191 people held on low-level raps.

Advocates for reducing the prison population rallied on Monday outside Rikers Island against unsafe conditions at the jail complex, Sept. 13, 2021.
Advocates for reducing the prison population rallied outside Rikers Island on Sept. 13.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Karim, who had been jailed since August after failing to respond to his parole officer, died inside the North Infirmary Command at around 7:30 p.m. Sunday, city Department of Correction records show.

The detainee, who used a wheelchair, was in the department’s special unit due to a host of medical issues, according to The Legal Aid Society, which represented him.

He contracted COVID-19 while stuck in intake for 10 days and was “denied access to his medications and critical medical care,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal defense practice at Legal Aid.

“Technical violations — including marijuana use and failing to report [to his parole officer], the non-criminal charges that led to Mr. Karim’s remand — should not amount to a death sentence,” Luongo added.

Karim was awaiting a hearing scheduled for Sept. 27, state records show.

He was not on the list of detainees Hochul asked the state parole board to release from jail “as he was not incarcerated for at least 30 days on [an] absconder warrant,” said Thomas Mailey, a state Department of Corrections spokesperson.

Million-Dollar Penalty

As news of Karim’s death became public, the city filed a lawsuit charging an illegal job action has led to nearly 1,800 officers calling out sick on any given day in recent weeks. The de Blasio administration is seeking a $1 million fine for every day of excessive absences.

It is illegal for the city unions to strike or launch so-called sick-outs under the state’s Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act, also known as the Taylor Law. Enacted in 1967, the law gave public employees in New York the right to be represented by unions in return for a ban on strikes and certain job actions.

“The illegal job action being encouraged and condoned by [the union] violates the Civil Service Law, New York City Collective Bargaining Law, and their own collective bargaining agreement in an apparent attempt to leverage this emergency to coerce the City into meeting [the union’s] demands,” the lawsuit charges.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association slammed the legal filing, calling it de Blasio’s latest attempt to shift blame for the “humanitarian crisis” on Rikers Island.

“If anyone is well-versed in violating the law, it’s our criminally negligent mayor, who hasn’t done his job for the past eight years,” said COBA President Benny Boscio Jr. in a statement.

Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio Jr. speaks about unsafe conditions for his members after clashing with elected leaders during a rally outside Rikers Island on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.
Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio Jr. speaks outside Rikers Island.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

As for Karim, Felicia Bullock, his ex-girlfriend and self-described caretaker, described him as “very spiritual. He was a very kind and lovable person.”

Karim was abused as a child and at one point was left alone on a city street, according to Bullock.

He suffered from an unspecified mental illness and had previously been stuck in a jail intake area where he tried to commit suicide by swallowing a battery in February 2016.

“He’d laugh like a little boy who did something mischievous,” Bullock recalled through tears.

“I can’t believe he’s gone. He was a beautiful person.”

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