City pays biggest Rikers Island inmate lawsuit yet

The city of New York agreed on Sept. 27, 2016 to pay $5.75 million to settle a lawsuit resulting from the 2013 death of mentally ill Rikers Island inmate Bradley Ballard. At the time of his eventual rescue, Ballard was found covered in his own urine and feces after being locked in a cell with no water for six days. The settlement is the largest the city has ever paid to resolve a case of the death of an inmate in custody.

Put in Rikers for the parole violation of failure to report a change in address, Ballard was previously diagnosed with schizophrenia and diabetes and was on medication. After spending a month at Rikers in June 2013, he went to Bellevue Hospital for another month before ending up back at Rikers' mental health unit. He was confined to his cell on Sept. 4 after dancing in a manner considered sexually offensive by a female guard. While in his cell, the staff refused to treat him or enter the cell. At one point Ballard tied a piece of rubber around his genitals, which led severe infection. Soon after his eventual rescue he would die of sepsis, which generally happens when multiple organs shut down.

The inmate's death was ruled as a homicide by the city's Medical Examiner with blame resting firmly on the city's Correction Department as well as Corizon Health, a medical contractor for the city that has been cited with multiple code violations and lapses of ethics. While Corizon Health was listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, the city will cover the entire settlement.

Ballard's family had initially filed a wrongful death suite. The city, however, in settling this case has not admitted to violating Ballard's personal rights. Nonetheless, this case continues a string of multimillion-dollar payouts involving inmates at Rikers: Ronald Spear's family received $2.75 million and Jerome Murdough's got $2.25 million in 2014; there was more than $5 million paid to the families of two inmates who died in custody in 2015.

The city's Investigation Department issued a scathing report in 2015 that cited both Corizon Health and Correction Department in hopes of continuing to clean up a penal system and the culture therein where there is little regard for the rights of inmates.

If you, a family member or someone you know is incarcerated and having their individual rights violated, the best course of action is to speak with an attorney who is willing to pursue the case and stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves.

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