Legal Aid Society


LAS Mourns Michael Nieves, 13th New Yorker to Pass in DOC Custody This Year

The Legal Aid Society is mourning the loss of Michael Nieves, the 13th New Yorker to pass in New York City Department of Correction’s (DOC) custody this year.

“The reports that New York City’s uniformed correction officers stood idly and watched Michael Nieves, our client, end his life are infuriating and heartbreaking, but not surprising,” reads a statement from Legal Aid. “It is heartbreaking that a person with severe mental illness was not in a hospital receiving care, but was held behind bars at the mercy of such demonstrably callous and incompetent jailers.”

Legal Aid notes that Rikers still employs staff who watched Nicholas Felicano hang himself for eight minutes in 2019 and that the federal monitor overseeing City jails described a similar incident just last year.

“That this week’s tragedy occurred in the unit of the jail that is ostensibly most trained and equipped to jail people with serious mental illness underscores the jail’s fundamental inability to keep safe the people in DOC’s care,” the statement continues. “The Adams Administration has failed to respond to the gross incompetence of its staff and leadership with urgency and leadership, resulting in the shocking death toll on this administration’s watch.”

Legal Aid is demanding the release of the videos of the staff during this incident so that New Yorkers can truly understand what takes place in the jails, and for the City to describe with specificity what more it will do to address staff’s disregard for basic suicide prevention protocols and basic correctional practice.

“This avoidable incident illustrates the systemic failures, and lack of a meaningful response, that have led Legal Aid to seek federal court intervention in the appointment of a receiver,” the statement concludes. “Our hearts ache for Mr. Nieves’ family, friends and community, and the countless other New Yorkers who have been touched by these tragic and completely avoidable incidents.”