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5 COs suspended after 65-year-old detainee dies at Rikers

Three hours before the man’s death, his unit was without an officer touring the floor, as required by Correction Department policy

Rikers Island

Two nursing attendants with Correctional Health Services were also suspended pending a review of the emergency medical response.

Photo/Theodore Parisienne via TNS

By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Correction Department staffing breakdowns may have contributed to the death of a 65-year-old detainee held in a Rikers Island medical ward, a preliminary city report found.

The Correction Department has already suspended five officers in the Feb. 4 death of Marvin Pines, found unresponsive in a housing area bathroom at the North Infirmary Command.

A report by the city Board of Correction based on security video, documents and interviews found that for three hours before Pines’ death, his unit was without an officer touring the floor, as required by Correction Department policy.

Additionally, the report said, the housing area bathroom where Pines died was only checked once more than an hour after Pines had gone in there and where he presumably began going into medical distress.

The supervising captain visited the unit just once hours earlier for roughly one minute, also a rules violation, the report said.

In all, two assistant deputy wardens, the captain and two officers were suspended by Correction Department.

Two nursing attendants with Correctional Health Services were also suspended pending a review of the emergency medical response, CHS confirmed.

“It’s alarming. I don’t have any words to add,” Pines’ daughter LaToya Ortega told the Daily News. “I can’t believe that they are saying there was no staff and it seemed like it was going on for such a long time.”

Pines was the first detainee to die in the jails in 2023. Sixteen people died in Department of Correction custody in 2021 and 19 in 2022 — both much higher per capita rates than in well over a decade.

The Board of Correction previously concluded that the absence of floor officers contributed to the deaths of George Pagan on March 17, 2022 and Herman Diaz on May 18, 2022.

Failures to check on detainees have also been cited by the board as possible factors in a number of the deaths over the past two years.

Pines’ family lawyer, Tayo Bland, said the Correction Department was aware Pines had a documented history of seizures.

“Rikers has been a humanitarian crisis for some time, and Mr. Pines is unfortunately one in a long list of people who have fallen through the cracks,” Bland said.

“We are awaiting the results of the medical examination and the attorney general’s investigation, but from the initial report, it appears there were numerous oversights and missteps by the staff on duty that night.”

The city Medical Examiner has not ruled on the cause of Pines’ death.

But, the Board of Correction report says, an officer used the anti-overdose drug Narcan to try to revive him and a search of the area found a book containing sheets soaked with “an unknown liquid substance.”

The News obtained the Board of Correction report through a Freedom of Information request. The findings were first reported by Gothamist Saturday.

Benny Boscio, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, cautioned against “demonizing” the officers.

“One of the correction officers suspended in this incident engaged in heroic efforts to save the life of an inmate in physical distress,” Boscio said.

“Despite her best efforts, the inmate tragically passed away. Neither she nor the other officer involved in this incident should have been suspended.”

Correction Department officials officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The Board of Correction concluded the unit had no floor officer between 12:30 a.m. and 3:17 a.m. that night, partly because an officer left their post more than an hour before their relief arrived.

At about 4:12 a.m., Pines got out of bed and walked into the bathroom, video showed.

A detainee told investigators he also went to the bathroom at 4:30 a.m. and saw Pines “resting against the sink.”

“I asked if he was okay. He didn’t respond,” the detainee said. “(Later) I went back to the bathroom … That’s when I noticed him shaking/trembling and breathing heavy.”

The detainee laid Pines on the floor and called the floor officer.

The replacement floor officer had previously toured the unit at 3:44 a.m., but hadn’t toured again until more than an hour later at 5:01 a.m. and still didn’t check the bathroom.

A detainee went into the bathroom at 5:17 p.m. and alerted the officer who finally found Pines unresponsive and possibly overdosing, the report indicates.

An officer used CPR and Narcan to try to revive Pines as detainees clustered around Pines and rubbed his back, according to accounts in the report.

Rikers medical staffers arrived at 5:23 a.m. but they didn’t immediately bring a gurney and one had to be fetched by a nurse, the report says.

After a detainee helped load Pines onto the gurney, he was taken to North Infirmary Command’s sixth floor clinic at 5:30 a.m. Firefighters and EMS arrived at the unit just after 6 a.m., the report said.

Pines died at 6:18 a.m. in the clinic.

Pines had been arrested six months earlier in Midtown on drug charges. He arrived at Rikers on Aug. 3, and ended up in North Infirmary Command on Aug. 29. One detainee told BOC staff Pines’ head was bandaged when he arrived in the unit.

Ortega previously told The News that in August, her dad suffered a seizure that caused him to fall in a Rikers shower, causing a wound in his head that required stitches.

“What I want to know is, were they monitoring after he fell? ... They should have been monitoring him,” she previously said.

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