Rikers detainees sue over being stuck in 'foul intake cells' after posting bail
In November, the city settled a class-action lawsuit over delayed releases dating back to 2014
By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — Nestor Hernandez, arrested on an assault charge, says he sat in a fetid Rikers Island intake cell for four days before his father posted his bail.
And then it took another 16 hours before he was freed, says Hernandez, one of three detainees who sued the city in Manhattan federal court claiming they were subjected in the fall of 2021 to appalling dangerous conditions in unstaffed intake cells with minimal security — and then held longer than they should have been.
Hernandez, 40, of Brooklyn, is diabetic and had no access to insulin during his ordeal because there was no one to take him to the medical clinic.
“Most of the time, there were no COs and the inmates were running everything,” said Hernandez. “The most you could do was urinate in toilets because they were so filled with feces. The walls were covered in flies.”
After the bail money was posted, it was hours before Hernandez was freed.
“It was an inmate who told me my name finally popped up in the computer,” he said. “The guard finally comes over and he runs my name. It took another 16 hours to get out.”
The charge against him was eventually dropped.
Hernandez’s case, filed in August, sparked public attention Feb. 3 when Manhattan federal Judge Colleen McMahon blasted the Correction Department after lawyers for the city blew off three deadlines to turn over the names of staff involved.
“There is no agency that ... has been a more troublesome litigant in terms of, and you will excuse my language, ‘F--- you, judge, I’ll do what I want’ in that period than DOC,” McMahon said in open court.
McMahon’s commentary drew a contrite response from Correction Department General Counsel Paul Shechtman and a promise that the agency would be responsive.
The potential bill for what was a basic breakdown in the functioning of the city jails is starting to come due in the form of lawsuits filed by Hernandez and other former detainees like Roddrick Ingram and Dylan Richardson. The suits may form the basis of a class action.
Hernandez is among hundreds of detainees forced in the fall of 2021 to sit for days in crowded, foul intake cells on Rikers Island, in some cases remaining held there well after they were cleared for release, lawyers said.
The chaos that developed in the jails in the fall of 2021 was caused by a breakdown in basic security and services in part due to large numbers of correction officers out sick, said Richard Cardinale, the lawyer representing the six plaintiffs.
The problem with delayed releases has dogged the DOC for a longer period. In November, the city settled a class-action lawsuit over delayed releases dating back to 2014. The settlement could cost the city a staggering $300 million.
The Correction Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Hernandez said during his stay in that intake cell in the Otis Bantum Correction Center, detainees set a pile of toilet paper on fire to protest the conditions. Other detainees made two homeless men fight each other, he claimed.
Ingram, 34, of Brooklyn had a similar account after his arrest Oct. 18, 2021.
“I don’t like being around germs. It gets to me. And I had sores on my body from being there,” he said. “There was no hand sanitizer or face masks. You had to yell and scream like an animal for them to pay attention. I didn’t want to go to sleep in there.”
Ingram made bail within the first few hours of his stay but had to remain in intake about another 24 hours before he was released. His criminal case, also for assault, was also eventually dismissed.
Richardson, 20, also of Brooklyn, said he was put in intake on the Tombs in lower Manhattan. He spent two days there, after hours waiting for a medical check-up.
“Intake is not supposed to be long. I was there for at least 40 hours,” Richardson said. “You couldn’t sleep properly. The benches were filled with stains. There was pee in the corner, roaches, flies.”
He finally got out after a bail bondsman posted bail. But he had to stay an extra night, he said. He ultimately got probation to resolve his gun possession arrest, he said.
“It’s not worth it, going to jail,” Richardson concluded.
Cardinale said the poor conditions and delayed release is a factor of “indifference” by the Correction Department.
“It’s a low priority for people to be released when they should be released and to deal with the conditions in intake,” he said. “They have many fewer inmates now that they did before and it’s more of a disaster than it’s ever been.”
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