New York City officials have confirmed another death of a detainee in the city's jail system as the crisis at Rikers Island enters a new week.
Victor Mercado appears to be the 13th in custody death at Rikers since the start of the year. The Department of Correction confirmed the 64-year-old man died Friday afternoon at Elmhurst Hospital.
A spokesperson for the agency said Mercado's death appeared to be medical in nature. The city's medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
“I am heartbroken to learn of Mr. Mercado’s passing, and we mourn his loss together as a city," DOC Commission Vincent Schiraldi said in a statement. "While city officials are working quickly to identify the cause of death, our department is more committed than ever to improve safety across the jail system for staff and detainees.”
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Gothamist, meanwhile, reports that Mercado had recently tested positive for COVID-19 and his attorney had been fighting vigorously for compassionate release of the man.
“He got COVID while in jail, where rates continue to be higher than they are in the community, [and the] set up for viral spread is still very bad," a Rikers staffer told Gothamist. "And then because he had relevant risk factors, he got very sick pretty quickly.”
James Kilduff, the 64-year-old's lawyer, said Mercado was granted release the day of his death.
"I got a call from [Mercado's] brother telling me that he had been notified that his brother had passed away," Kilduff told Gothamist. The call came an hour after Mercado was granted an emergency release.
According to his lawyer, Mercado had been held at Rikers since July awaiting trial for a weapons charge. He was being held on a $100,000 bail.
The death of another inmate at the city's embattled jail is but the latest tragedy in the face of efforts by local and state officials to clean up the island complex.
Dozens of women at Rikers Island have signed a petition opposing the recent decision to temporarily move them to state facilities, NBC New York has learned, claiming that the move is "silencing us, hiding us, abusing your power."