The court-appointed monitor for New York City jail violence revealed Wednesday that an autopsy confirmed a 31-year old mentally ill Rikers prisoner died from a skull fracture, despite top city correction officials including the commissioner claiming he suffered a heartattack or “headaches”.
Joshua Valles died on Monday at Elmhurst Hospital Center, Queens. He had been in a state of coma for more than a month.
Steve Martin, the federal court monitor, learned of the Valles’ hospitalization only two days later, on May 22. He only knew in broad strokes.
In a statement released by the Department of Correction, officials stated that Valles was technically freed from custody on May 24, while he lay comatose in Elmhurst.
Valles is just one of five cases where Martin and his monitoring team have accused the other parties of trying to cover up or delaying reporting of serious incidents. The controversy has given new momentum to the idea of an outside entity taking over the jails.
The Legal Aid Society stated Wednesday that “DOC’s efforts to hide information, limit transparency and keep Rikers Island hidden from the public are part of a pattern where it has tried to keep Rikers Island out of sight.”
“The city cannot isolate the jails from external oversight, especially when so many people suffer severe harm and even death.”
The society noted that DOC removed remote video access for the city Board of Corrections, severely hindering their oversight role of the agency.
Laura Taylor Swain, Manhattan Federal Judge, ordered on Wednesday a special hearing to be held on June 13th.
The city Department of Investigation, however, is investigating the Valles case. It also requested information about the other four cases mentioned in Martin’s Friday report as part of an investigation into possible misconduct by Correction staff.
The autopsy of Valles’ death raises serious questions about the accounts given by top officials at the Correction Department.
In a letter obtained by the Daily News on Tuesday, Molina told Monitor that “there was no departmental wrongdoing in the Valles case.”
Molina claimed that there was no evidence that anyone had submitted a false complaint or tried to cover-up wrongdoing.
According to the federal monitor report, Valles complained of headaches on May 20, 2009. He was taken from the Anna M. Kross Center at Rikers to Elmhurst Hospital Center to be evaluated for what the federal monitor reported was deemed to be by correction officials as a “nonincident-related medical condition or injury.”
Molina wrote in his letter that Valles “left the jail on his own power” but “quickly turned for the worse.” Valles was put on life support at the hospital.
On May 23, Correction Department’s General Counsel Paul Shechtman stated that Valles “appeared as if he had a heartattack and no foul play was currently suspected.”
Shechtman told the monitor that the department was “uncertain” as to how Valles had suffered the skull fracture. However, he suggested it might be related to a fight he had with other detainees a month earlier.
The monitor wrote: “There is no doubt that an investigation is needed and that the commissioner’s conclusions about the incident reported to the Monitoring Team are at best premature.”
Valles’ lawyers at New York County Defender Services said that Valles had no criminal record, and was in jail for “nonviolent, property-related offenses.”
Valles’ lawyers claim that under the bail reforms of 2020, Valles wouldn’t have been jailed. However, changes to bail laws in the year 2022 allowed for a judge in his case to set bail at $10,000.
In a statement, the lawyers said that “something is clearly wrong with what the department reports publicly.” They asked the office of the state attorney general to investigate Valles’ death.
Martin’s report also mentions Daniel Cruz, 39, a prisoner who was severely beaten by other inmates just before dawn on May 17 at the Eric M. Taylor Center in Rikers.
The monitor report stated that he was left naked in an empty pen for several hours without any assistance from staff.
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Cruz suffered internal bleeding and broken ribs, as well as a ruptured spleen. He had emergency surgery.
The Monitor learned about the assault on May 19 from a source outside. On May 20, three days after the assault took place, the central operations desk of the Correction Department was finally notified. According to department policy, the assault should have been reported in an hour.
The report stated that correction officials, despite being ordered to do so, had not informed Martin and his staff about the incident as of Friday.
The monitor said that it was not up to the commissioner or any employee of a party to decide what the monitor needs to do his job.
In his reply, Molina said, “I’m not sure what you expect.” The monitor was told by the department’s general attorney that several staff interviews had been scheduled, and that appropriate disciplinary actions would be taken.
A correction official revealed that four men were connected to the attack against Cruz. They will be charged for felony gang violence and jail assault.
“The safety and the security of all who work and live in our facilities are our No. Molina stated in a press release that safety and security of everyone who works or lives in our facilities is our No.
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