The family of a Rikers Island inmate who died after being locked in a cell for six days without access to running water or medication has won a $5.75 million settlement in a lawsuit against New York City. It is the largest settlement in NYC history for a death in custody.
Bradley Ballard, 39, was found unresponsive on September 13, 2013, naked, covered in his own excrement and with a rubber band tied tightly around his penis. It was later revealed that Ballard was denied medication for diabetes and schizophrenia while he was confined to the cell, and the Times reports he had also been without running water. After removing him from his cell, Rikers staff attempted to revive Ballard and treat his severely infected genitals at Elmhurst hospital, but he died hours later. A medical examiner later ruled Ballard's death a homicide.
Jonathan Abady, an attorney representing Ballard's family, called his death "a total system failure, an astonishing display of inhuman treatment and misconduct that involved culpability at virtually every level."
Ballard had been initially locked up for violating his parole and failing to report an address change in June 2013. His family's lawsuit argued that he was admitted to the Bellevue Hospital Center psychiatric ward the following month, where he remained for 38 days until being transferred back to Rikers. On September 4th, 2013, he was put into solitary confinement for making lewd gestures at a female guard.
"Had Ballard received adequate and appropriate medical and mental health care and supervision and intervention when he became critically ill, his death would have been prevented," the State Commission of Correction concluded, according to the Times. The same Commission found that the treatment administered to Ballard by both the New York City Correction Department and paid contractor Corizon Health was "so incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience."
Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, admitted that Ballard's death was a "tragic case" and called the $5.7 million payout "fair and in the best interests of the city."
As of 2014, roughly 40% of Rikers Island's 12,000 inmates are mentally ill, and the administration of solitary confinement is four times the national average. Ballard's death brought demands for specific criminal prosecution against both Corizon and Rikers staff, as well as sweeping change in how law enforcement deals with the mentally ill.
"People who are responsive for upholding the law should also follow the law," Jails Action Coalition activist Johnny Perez told Gothamist in June 2014 as he protested Ballard's homicide outside the Bronx DA office.