Rikers officer suspended after detainee death, as NY AG joins calls for federal takeover

The Gothamist, Jessy Edwards, Dec 2, 2023

An officer at Rikers Island was suspended after the most recent death of a person in custody — part of a rising death toll that has prompted New York Attorney General Letitia James to join calls for a takeover of the city’s troubled jails complex.

Manish Kunwar – a 27-year-old who suffered mental health issues – died in a mental observation unit on Rikers Island on Oct. 5. He was the ninth person to die in Department of Correction custody this year.

In a report on Kunwar’s death sent on Oct. 13 to the NYC Board of Correction – the city jails oversight agency – investigators for the board said there was no suicide prevention expert working the night Kunwar died, and the officer on duty failed to check for signs of life every 15 minutes, as required.

The AG’s call — detailed in a letter Friday —  and the recent death report are part of a steadily growing call from multiple layers of government to wrest control of Rikers Island from the city and hand it over to an independent third-party. In total, 28 DOC detainees have died since Mayor Eric Adams was inaugurated in January 2022, and the city’s jail system had its highest detainee death rate in a quarter-century last year. That’s in addition to numerous reports of violence, drug smuggling and shoddy supervision of people detained at the complex.

When correction officers went to deliver breakfast to Kunwar just after 5:30 a.m., they realized he’d covered his cell window with a piece of fabric, and entered his cell to find him unresponsive, face-down on the bed, the report says. Staff did CPR and administered Narcan before pronouncing Kunwar dead. His cause of death had not been determined at the time.

An officer was suspended and a captain put on modified duty due to an internal investigation into the death, according to the report, issued five days after Kunwar’s death, which was provided to Gothamist through a Freedom of Information Law request.

Read More: The Gothamist