Rikers Island

4 Rikers Island Guard Charged for Failing to Help in Teen's 2019 Hanging Attempt

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Four Rikers Island guards pleaded not guilty Monday after they were accused of standing by to watch a person behind bars try to take his own life.

Three correction officers and a captain previously faced 30 days suspensions without pay in connection to the suicide attempt of then 18-year-old Nicholas Feliciano.

Feliciano attempted to hang himself Nov. 27, 2019, in an area of the notorious New York City lockup that was in view of a guard desk where officers can monitor activity through video feeds.

According to a Board of Correction’s review published last year, Feliciano was hanging for 7 minutes and 51 seconds where correction officers could clearly see him.

Officers Kenneth Hood, Mark Wilson, Daniel Fullerton and Captain Terry Henry were arraigned on charges of reckless endangerment and misconduct. Two of the officers (Wilson and Fullerton) resigned back in February, and Hood will be suspended, the Department of Correction told News 4. Henry, meanwhile, is on modified duty.

The union representing the officers disputes the charges; its president calling the indictment "further evidence that this case is being driven more by politics than by facts.

"The U.S. Attorney’s Office previously conducted a thorough investigation of this same case and decided not to pursue any criminal charges. The Bronx DA’s Office, however, is searching for scapegoats," union president, Benny Boscio, said in a statement.

Feliciano, who has a history of depression, ADHD, and past psychiatric hospitalization, survived the suicide attempt but he was left with severe brain damage, according to the report. He was discharged from DOC custody and transferred to Bellevue Hospital's traumatic brain injury rehab facility where he remains with no change in prognosis as of June 2021.

Feliciano’s grandmother, Madeline Feliciano, filed a lawsuit against the city and nearly a dozen individuals requesting a jury trial, alleging the defendants' actions "caused substantial injuries and permanent brain damage to Plaintiff's grandson while he was being detained" on Rikers Island.

“Every day I see Nicholas fighting and it’s been traumatic seeing the pain of him even trying to breath, eat, talk, and to learn how to live again. While these officers have been workings still at Rikers Island and Nicholas is still in the Hospital. These officers need to be held accountable for their actions," Madeline Feliciano, the man's grandmother and guardian, said in a statement Monday.

The lawsuit claims staff and medical professional required to care for Feliciano failed to adequately consider his mental health history and place him in the appropriate unit. Instead, the 18-year-old was placed in the adult general population at the George R. Vierno Center.

Feliciano had been placed in an intake cell on the night of Nov. 27 where he used a t-shirt and sweatshirt to hang himself from a ceiling hook, the same hook a different inmate used to attempt self-harm six days earlier, according to the review. As alleged in the lawsuit, there were no attempts to remove the hook after the earlier attempt.

During the nearly eight minutes Feliciano hung from the ceiling, the Board of Correction report found eight officers and two EMTs observed the teen hanging in the intake cell before the captain moved to place Feliciano in handcuffs and let him fall to the ground. Around the time Feliciano lost consciousness, the report said one officer entered the pen door, saw him hanging motionless, and walked away without assisting him.

"The attempted suicide of Nicholas Feliciano in November 2019 highlights many troubling aspects of New York City’s jail system relating to young adults, mental health treatment, self-harm, dangerous intake conditions, and poor supervision," the board wrote in its 2021 conclusion. "These conditions persist today."

The four defendants are due back in court mid-September.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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