NYC Jail Commissioner Lowers Death Toll by Releasing Nearly Dead Inmate
After becoming aware that a Rikers Island inmate could die in the prison, New York City Correctional Department Commissioner Louis Molina rushed senior staff at Rikers Island to have him released before he died and became an additional death to Rikers Island’s death toll.
According to reports, Elmore Robert Pondexter suffered cardiac arrest while on Rikers Island and was given a compassionate release, an irregular occurrence. After he was released, Pondexter was taken off life support and died at Bellevue Hospital. Before he was released, Pondexter had complained to family members of breathing difficulties and chest pains.
According to reports, Pondexter collapsed soon after leaving his cell on the morning of September 18th. Medical investigations at the hospital revealed no immediate issues but the following day, he went into cardiac arrest and though his heartbeat was restored, he never regained consciousness. Pondexter was eventually declared brain dead.
Upon finding out about Pondexter’s medical issues, Molina communicated with staff members at Rikers that they should make sure the inmate would be released from the prison as soon as possible so his death wouldn’t count towards the Rikers Island death toll. When it appeared as though Pondexter’s release would be delayed, Molina insisted that the inmate be processed even though reports indicate he had no authority to approve an inmate’s release.
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The Correctional Department commented on the matter while also extending condolences to the deceased’s family. “The Department strongly supports compassionate release because it allows for family members to spend time with the individual when they need the most care and support and without Department interference,” the spokeswoman said, adding: “The Department, of course, cannot grant compassionate release, the courts make the ultimate decision.”
Pondexter’s family initially were quite satisfied with his release. Still, they were concerned soon after his death about the possibility that the department released him to avoid any responsibility over the circumstances of his death.
“At first we were happy he died with dignity, and we knew he wouldn’t die a prisoner,” said Aquandra Morris, Pondexter’s daughter. “But then I thought about it — something is not right. They are trying to relinquish their responsibility.”
The Legal Aid Society also released a statement condemning the Correctional Department’s conduct. “Mayor Adams and Commissioner Molina have demonstrated that they will not or cannot keep people safe in the New York City jails,” the statement said. “We expect the department to be accountable for their actions in Mr. Pondexter’s final hours. To date, the department has failed to demonstrate accountability for the death toll, but instead rests in obfuscation and delay.”
Rikers Island is notorious for its chaos and violence. This year has seen the death of 15 inmates associated with or linked to the prison. According to reports, the issues at Rikers Island stem from a combination of a lack of adequate staff members and negligence. This has led to both detainees and staff members being placed in unsafe and unsuitable situations.