Eric Adams defends Department of Correction, detainee death count rises

Mayor Eric Adams issued a full-throated defense of the Department of Correction Wednesday, telling reporters “I am truly pleased with what I’m seeing” just days after two detainees died within 48 hours of each other. 

“I just want to take my hat off to the boldest,” Adams said during a press briefing on Rikers Island after touring two facilities, the Robert N. Davoren Complex and the Eric M. Taylor Center. 

“This has been an agency that’s been ignored, this has been an agency that in spite of all the negative news, they come everyday and do the job. They hold it down.

“This mayor is not going to tear you down… I acknowledge your job, I acknowledge what you do and I’m saying, thank you for what you do.”

Earlier this week, two detainees died in custody, one of a suspected drug overdose, which brought the DOC’s total death count to nine so far this year. 

“I just want to take my hat off to the boldest,” said Mayor Adams, referring to the Department of Correction.
Gregory P. Mango

It’s shaping up to be one of the deadliest years on record for the beleaguered agency as fatalities continue to outpace the number of detainee deaths seen in 2021.  

By this time last year, only seven detainees had died and by the end of 2021, the toll was 16, the most the agency has seen since 2013. 

Hizzoner downplayed the string of deaths and while he did want to “acknowledge” them, he said it’s important to look at each one and “find out what happened.” 

Earlier this week, two detainees died within 48 hours of each other, one of a suspected drug overdose.
Earlier this week, two detainees died within 48 hours of each other, one of a suspected drug overdose.
EPA

“Why did they die? What condition did they have before they came to Rikers?” the mayor questioned. 

“Because Rikers didn’t give them heart disease if that’s the reason they died.”

A scathing Board of Correction report issued in May found staffing shortages contributed to the first three fatalities of the year, including the death of Herman Diaz, 52, who choked while eating an orange and was carried to the infirmary by fellow detainees. 

This year's detainee fatalities are continuing to outpace last year's, with there being less fatalities by this time in 2021.
This year’s detainee fatalities are continuing to outpace last year’s.
JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The fourth death of the year was 25-year-old Dashawn Carter, who hung himself in his cell two days after he was transferred from a psychiatric hospital directly to a general population housing unit. 

Two more detainees died of suspected drug overdoses while another was a suicide. 

Details on the remaining two deaths weren’t immediately available. 

The mayor touted the recovery of more than 2,700 weapons and other contraband that were found during tactical search operations, which paused under former Mayor Bill de Blasio. He also said that since they resumed in late February, stabbings and slashings are down 63%. 

“We’re seeing progress,” Adams insisted. 

The remarks come as a federal takeover of the jail looms in the background after prosecutors and a federal monitor appointed to oversee the agency found they’ve consistently failed to rectify a string of long-standing issues. 

Earlier this month, Judge Laura Swain accepted a plan submitted by the DOC that outlined the steps they’ll take to fix the problems, which is expected to stave off a federal receivership at least until November. 

Mayor Adams resumed tactical search operations in February, recovering more than 2,700 weapons and other contraband.
Mayor Adams resumed tactical search operations in February, recovering more than 2,700 weapons and other contraband.
Gregory P. Mango

When asked about staff absenteeism, one of the issues plaguing the agency that’s been cited in court, Adams noted 1,400 uniformed workers have come back to the job since Commissioner Louis Molina took over. 

The Legal Aid Society lambasted the mayor in an emailed statement, saying his refusal to “take responsibility” for the deaths is both “irresponsible and callous.” 

“This is emblematic of how City Hall views incarcerated people as second-class citizens, guilty until proven innocent and unworthy of compassion” the agency said. 

“The extraordinarily high death rate on Mayor Adams’ watch, and the suffering of all who are kept in abysmal conditions inside, are a humanitarian crisis that this Administration seems incapable of rectifying any time soon.”