MANHATTAN (CN) — Settling a “stunning and unconscionable” case at Rikers Island Prison, a mother reached a $5.75 million deal with New York City over her mentally ill son’s death alone in his cell after he was starved of food, water and medical care for a week.
Almost exactly three years ago, schizophrenic and diabetic inmate Bradley Ballard was found dead in his cell, his naked body lying in his own vomit and feces, with a rubber band wrapped around his genitals.
Prison guards had locked Ballard up in a mental health unit for seven days without sustenance or medication to punish him for dancing in a way that offended a female officer, according to his mother’s lawsuit, filed one year after his death.
Even though the prison had been required to visit Ballard twice a day, a nurse only met with him once during the last week of his life, withholding his prescription drugs.
“Rather than provide the critical care required, corrections officers and medical staff essentially stood by and watched as Mr. Ballard languished, deteriorated, and ultimately died,” his mother, Beverly Griffin, states in her 32-page complaint.
The New York City medical examiner ruled the case a homicide, with ketoacidosis, a toxic buildup of acids from Ballard’s lack of insulin medication, as one of the causes of death.
The mother’s attorney, Debbie Greenberger of the public-interest firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady said in an interview that the firm believed it reached the “largest settlement concerning claims regarding prisoners at Rikers Island,” but she noted that money “can’t bring Bradley back” to his family.
“I think full accountability has to go beyond settling this case,” Greenberger said.
For human-rights advocates, Ballard’s shocking treatment symbolized the lawlessness of Rikers Island and the rampant civil-rights abuses besetting the administration of New York City’s then-mayor, Michael Bloomberg, whose lawyers had been in court defending racial profiling in the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program.
Griffin named New York City and its warden, guards, doctors and corrections officials as defendants in her lawsuit. She also sued Corizon, a Tennessee-based private contractor acting as the prison’s medical provider.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was not yet mayor at the time of Ballard’s death, declined to renew Corizon’s contract with Rikers in June 2015, and the public-sector NYC Health and Hospitals took over prison medical services at the beginning of this year.
On Tuesday, de Blasio’s administration reached what Griffin’s attorneys call a “historic settlement” for her son’s “unmatched suffering.”
“The settlement of this tragic case was fair and in the best interests of the city,” a New York City Law Department spokesman said.
De Blasio has since tapped a new correction commissioner: Joseph Ponte, who has promised to steer Rikers on a path of reform.
“Bradley Ballard’s death was a tragedy and our hearts go out to his family,” Ponte said in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of any inmate.”
Rikers Island has been subject to federal monitoring under a settlement between the de Blasio administration and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who famously compared its juvenile prison to the setting in “The Lord of the Flies.”
Though abuses inside the prison still continue, Ponte insists that the reforms underway are making a difference.
“The vast majority of our officers carry out their duties with care and integrity, and we are taking many steps to ensure that all staff adheres to the highest professionalism,” he said. “Our reforms of officer training include courses designed to prevent such cases.”
Attorney Greenberger said that, while the settlement provides a “small measure of justice” to the family, officers involved in the incident still have jobs, and she does not know of any that faced “significant salary consequences.”
John Gallagher, a deputy warden at the same prison, received a promotion to deputy warden-in-command in Feb. 2015.
Greenberger was not so sure Ryker’s reform would prevent future cases like Ballard’s.
“I certainly hope that a case of this outrageous magnitude could never happen again,” she said.