A Rikers Island assistant deputy warden has been suspended following the latest death of a detainee — the seventh this year, THE CITY has learned.
Multiple jail sources said the supervisor failed to properly check on people locked up in the housing unit where Curtis Davis was found lifeless early Sunday morning.
Davis, 44, became the second detainee to die in just over a week at the George R. Vierno Center (GRVC), one of eight active jails on the troubled East River detention complex. The Brooklyn man was pronounced dead at 5:51 a.m. after medical officials failed to revive him with a Lucas Device, which performs automatic chest compressions.
He was being held on a $30,000 bond for allegedly stabbing a 29-year-old man in the eye, according to the criminal complaint.
Deputy Commissioner Ronald Edwards also left the area without a captain during the overnight shift at the Vierno jail, which houses male adults who are awaiting trial or have been sentenced, department records show.
Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the union representing captains, said there are currently approximately 100 captain vacancies throughout the department.
“That’s a lot of captains to be down,” he said, adding that the problem dates back to the de Blasio administration, when there was a five-year stretch when no officers were promoted to that rank.
The department presently employs a little less than 600 captains who are directly in charge of frontline correction officers.
The latest deaths at Rikers come amidst growing calls for a judge to place the jail under a court-appointed receiver.
‘Dysfunctional for Decades’
Davis, who had been jailed since June 1 on the assault charge, is the seventh incarcerated person to die in custody this year — 19 died last year, the highest number in decades.
On Monday, Mayor Eric Adams blamed his predecessors for failing to reform the department when he was asked about the latest fatality.
“That entire population has been dysfunctional for decades,” he told reporters at an unrelated news conference.
Adams noted 50% of the jail population is diagnosed with some form of mental illness with 16% deemed seriously mentally ill.
“Many are coming in with serious medical issues,” he added. “Many are dealing with emotional trauma. Some are extremely dangerous.”
Joe Russo, president of the Assistant Deputy Wardens/Deputy Wardens Association, defended the suspended supervisor, whom Department of Correction officials declined to identify.
He said the supervisor had stopped in the housing area and checked in with officers by the control station.
But he never walked into the actual housing unit to check on the detainees or other staff, according to sources who viewed surveillance video from that night.
Normally, assistant deputy wardens are not required to do full housing area inspections. That task is typically the responsibility of the captain on duty. But there was no captain staffing the area where Davis died, jail records show.
Squabble Over Staffing
Overall staffing of officers and supervisors remains a contested topic.
The unions contend Rikers officers are severely short staffed, while the federal monitor overseeing the department has said there are too many and that they frequently contribute to violent interactions when they respond to distress calls en masse.
Last summer, Molina vowed to hire additional civilian staffers to do paperwork so officers can return to guarding detainees.
“There has been very little progress in the department’s efforts to reduce the use of uniform staff assigned to posts with duties that can be reasonably accomplished by a civilian,” said Steve Martin, the Texas-based federal monitor, in his latest report.
The department transferred a mere seven uniformed positions at its headquarters to civilian staff, the report said. Jail officials have plans to move 16 additional uniformed staff who handle timekeeping duties to civilian workers, the report added.
“In a system of this size, this complement of only 23 uniformed staff is hardly sufficient to meet the requirements of the Action Plan,” Martin said, referring to Molina’s so-called “Jails Action Plan” announced last summer.
Earlier this month, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said he would ask a judge to place the Correction Department under a third-party authority, moving the troubled jail system one step closer to a takeover by a federal receiver.
Williams noted a federal monitor in place since 2015 has been unable to reform the department.
“After eight years of trying every tool in the toolkit, we cannot wait any longer for substantial progress to materialize,” he said in a statement.
The third-party receiver would likely have extraordinary powers and would not be obligated to honor collective bargaining agreements negotiated by unions representing jail officers and supervisors, according to legal experts involved in similar cases.
Adams and the unions representing jail officers contend the department has begun to turn around over the past 18 months. They vehemently oppose the possible appointment of a third party to oversee city jails.
The department is presently on pace to finish with 350 stabbings and slashings this year, records show. That’s down from the 420 stabbings recorded in 2021 and 468 stabbings reported in 2022, according to jail data.
“I still believe that Molina is doing the best job that he can possibly do under the circumstances,” Ferraiuolo said. “He was handed over an agency that was deliberately destroyed over the last years of the de Blasio administration.”
Ferraiuolo and other union leaders are opposed to the plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with four so-called borough based jails closer to criminal courthouses. The labor groups are also against the de Blasio-era push to reduce the use of solitary confinement.
Advocates for people incarcerated and medical experts contend that medical research has shown that disciplinary practice leads to worsening mental health, especially among younger detainees and those with mental illness.
Days before Davis died, William Johnstone, 47, was found unresponsive inside his cell at the GRVC jail, according to department records.
Johnstone was rushed on July 15 to the Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens, where he was pronounced dead at 3:50 p.m., two hours after he was found, according to a Department of Correction spokesperson.