Detainee at City’s Floating Jail Was on Life Support for Two Weeks After Guard Tackle
James Carlton, 39, was at the Vernon C. Bain Center on May 11 when a team of captains and officers took him “down to the floor,” officers’ records say.
A man locked up on the city’s jail barge was on a ventilator for nearly two weeks after he was tackled by a group of correction officers when he refused to leave an elevator and then ran through a main gate, THE CITY has learned.
James Carlton, 39, was being escorted by an officer when he balked at an order to exit an elevator inside the Vernon C. Bain Center — the five-story floating house of detention on a barge in the East River — on May 11 at 11:24 a.m., according to the Department of Correction’s initial report of the incident.
When another officer came into the elevator, Carlton pushed his way past that guard, ran down a corridor, and pulled the main gate open, the report reads.
That’s when a team of captains and officers took him “down to the floor” and then put him on a gurney and brought him to the clinic area, according to paperwork filed by the officers after the so-called “use-of-force.”
The report says the takedown was captured on video surveillance. DOC officials say the footage is under investigation.
A jail source familiar with the incident told THE CITY the video does not show officers beating Carlton while he is on the floor.
After he was tackled to the floor, Carlton was unable to walk and was then brought to Lincoln Hospital, in The Bronx, where doctors put him on a respirator, according to multiple people familiar with his situation.
“The incident remains under investigation,” said Correction Department spokesperson Frank Dwyer.
Shortly after this article was originally published, Dwyer said that Carlon was taken off of the ventilator Wednesday and is expected to be moved to a rehabilitation center.
He said Carlton already suffered from spinal stenosis, a condition described as a narrowing of the spinal canal which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves inside it.
Before the confrontation with officers, Dean Vigliano, Carlton’s lawyer, had asked the court to conduct a mental health evaluation, known as a “730,” court records show. The results from the review conducted earlier this month have not been released yet.
Vigliano said he’s actively investigating the incident but declined to comment further.
Carlton listed an apartment in Soundview, The Bronx, as his last place of residence, jail records show.
He’d been in jail for the past six months on robbery and assault charges following an arrest on Nov. 7 after being remanded without bail, court records show.
Police say he hit a 70-year-old victim in the face before he stole his wallet in the subway station at West 42nd St. and 7th Ave. on July 11 at 1:40 a.m., according to the criminal complaint, which cited video surveillance of the alleged assault. The elderly victim needed stitches, the complaint said.
Carlton had been moved to the jail barge because on Rikers Island he had complained about being targeted by some gang members and asked to be relocated, according to a jail source familiar with his case.
So officers moved him to an open-housing unit on the barge, correction records show.
Now, Vigliano, his lawyer, said he plans to press the Manhattan prosecutor handling the case for a “compassionate release.” He’d likely remain hospitalized and possibly moved to another medical facility if his condition improves.
A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg did not respond to a request seeking comment.
Violence Behind Bars
Carlton’s serious medical condition after a takedown by officers comes as the overall number of use-of-force incidents that resulted in serious injuries to detainees in city jails has tripled since 2016, according to a federal monitor overseeing the department.
In 2022, there were 434 serious injuries from uses of force, compared to 74 in 2016, according to the latest report by the monitor, Steve Martin.
Carlton’s mental health struggles are also not isolated.
All told, 16% of the entire approximately 6,000 jail population has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, according to the latest Mayor’s Management Report.
Some advocates and family members of mentally ill people behind bars contend that they shouldn’t be in the criminal justice system at all.
Two people in DOC custody have died so far this year. There were 19 city jail-related deaths in 2022, the highest rate since 2000.
Earlier this month, Rubu Zhao, 52, passed away shortly after he allegedly jumped from an upper floor of a specialized unit on Rikers for people with mental illness, according to multiple reports.
Zhao was housed in a Program to Accelerate Clinical Effectiveness (PACE) unit inside the George R. Vierno Center on Rikers. He was being held on charges of killing his 48-year-old girlfriend.
Detainees in the PACE unit are supposed to be monitored closely and are given added medical care and programming.
Early research has shown that the designated mental health units have been a success so far.
But a de Blasio-era plan to expand the specialized units for people with mental illness on Rikers has stalled with no timeline from the Adams administration, even as the mayor’s new public safety plan purports to have a heavy focus on psychiatric help, THE CITY reported.
In the other death in jail this year, Marvin Pines was found unconscious on Feb. 4 inside a bathroom inside the North Infirmary Command, the facility on Rikers where people with serious medical issues are housed.
Five correction officers involved in the case have been suspended after they allegedly failed to check on Pines every half hour as required. Officers allegedly ignored Pines for three hours before he was discovered unresponsive, according to a Board of Correction report.
Advocates for people locked up are urging the federal judge in a long-running case to appoint a so-called “receiver” to take over the running of the DOC — including the embattled plan to shut Rikers Island jail facilities and house detainees in four new jails in each borough except Staten Island.