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Left Unmonitored In His Cell, He Etched His Suicide Note Into a Wall On Rikers Island

In a new lawsuit, the family of deceased Rikers detainee Segundo Guallpa allege that corrections officers failed to check on him, and that at least one falsified paperwork claiming that she had.

SHARE Left Unmonitored In His Cell, He Etched His Suicide Note Into a Wall On Rikers Island

Segundo Guallpa etched a suicide note into his cell wall before taking his life.

Photo Courtesy of Joel Wertheimer and Ali Najmi

On the evening of Aug. 29, 2021, Segundo Guallpa, an Ecuadorian immigrant from Queens, was found dead in his cell on Rikers Island with a sock tied around his neck and bed frame.

Before Guallpa took his life, he had been left unsupervised for more than an hour — leaving him enough time to scrawl a massive suicide note on the wall of his cell, according to a new lawsuit filed on Tuesday by his family.

“I lost my memory completely. I don’t remember anything. I leave you free,” Guallpa wrote in Spanish. 

The former construction worker suffered head trauma from a brutal robbery nearly a decade earlier, and subsequently descended into a cycle of alcoholism and domestic abuse of his spouse, according to his family.

On the night of Guallpa’s death, one of the guards in his housing unit filed internal false reports claiming that she had made several tours in the area where the 58-year-old detainee was staying, the suit in Manhattan federal court alleges. She subsequently admitted to submitting inaccurate paperwork, according to department records obtained by the family’s counsel.

“When this writer was notified of the situation, I now recognize that my last two logbook entries were made stating that I did a tour of area at which time I did not complete my last couple of tours,” wrote Correction Officer Tonya Huston in a Department of Correction report a day after Guallpa’s death.

In her report, Huston cited numerous requests from other detainees she was attempting to juggle, leaving her “distracted.” At the time, New York City jails were paralyzed by a massive staffing crisis caused by more than 1,000 corrections officers calling out sick or failing to show up to work — a problem that still exists.   

The Department of Correction did not respond to requests for comment about whether any of the officers working in Guallpa’s housing unit have been disciplined. The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association did not respond to requests for comment from the three officers.

“Because of them, my husband is like this,” Luz Guamán, Guallpa’s wife, told THE CITY in Spanish. “They didn’t give my husband attention of the mind.”

“With whom do I talk?” Guamán said, crying. “It’s very sad. … Now I’m alone.”

Attorneys for her and her family, Joel Wertheimer and Ali Najmi, said today: “This case involves the failure of DOC employees to perform routine duties, and the creation of falsified records to cover up their conduct. There is a deliberate indifference to the mental and physical health needs of inmates inside Rikers Island. Segundo Guallpa should still be alive today but for the negligence of the Department of Corrections.” 

Segundo Guallpa with his family before committing suicide on Rikers Island.

Courtesy of Guallpa Family

​​The Guallpa family’s lawsuit comes as Correction Commissioner Louis A. Molina has embarked on a reform plan to avoid a potential federal takeover of the jails system.  

Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain, of Manhattan federal district court, has given Molina until November to implement his action plan before she assesses the results. 

A growing chorus of inmate advocates, criminal justice reformers and politicians are urging the federal judge overseeing the DOC to appoint a “receiver” to take over the system. 

34 Deaths

Guallpa is one of 16 people jailed in New York City who died in 2021, the most in nine years. Eighteen people in city jails have died so far in 2022, including Gilberto Garcia, 26, who was found dead inside the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers on Monday afternoon. 

Garcia, who was in jail for three years awaiting trial on a robbery charge, died from an apparent drug overdose, according to jail insiders. The city medical examiner’s office has not stated a cause of death.

Some of the recent deaths in the city jail system were blamed in part on officers who failed to regularly check on detainees, according to a report by the city’s Board of Correction published in September.

“The pervasive issue of insufficient rounding [making rounds] and supervision by correctional staff was present in at least eight of the 10 deaths reviewed in this investigation,” the 35-page report said. 

For example, Tomas Carlo Camacho, 48, was found unconscious with his head stuck in the handcuff slot on a cell door inside a Rikers medical unit on March 3, 2021. Correction officers failed to look in on him for about two hours before finding him with his head stuck through the cuffing port, according to the board review. Department policy requires officers to check on detainees in mental observation units every 30 minutes to make sure they are breathing. 

“It Wasn’t Like That”

Luz Guamán, Guallpa’s wife, recalled him as a good father, often helping with housework and taking care of the kids. But the former construction worker, who lost his job after an onsite accident, fell into a dark depression after he was robbed outside his home in an assault in which he was hit in the head repeatedly.

After that, Guallpa began drinking more and attacking his wife, who supported their family through her income from a clothing factory.

“I could have called the police like a dozen times, but I never did because I was afraid of what would happen to him,” Guamán told New York Focus and Gothamist in an interview last year.

Last August, after another assault, she did call the police. Her husband was taken to jail and received a bail he couldn’t afford. Less than two weeks later, he took his own life.

“I thought that maybe going to jail, he was going to go to some classes, some things for him to reflect on, and it wasn’t like that,” Guamán said. “What happened was that he died.”

Guamán said the criminal justice system’s failure to keep her husband alive sends a dangerous signal to other survivors like her who may want to call the police.

“If there’s a domestic violence problem, they’re not going to call because now they’re going to have fear that this will happen,” she continued.

If you or someone you know needs help, dial 988 or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also get support via text by visiting suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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