Two Lawsuits Filed Against the City Over Diabetes Deaths at Rikers Island


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On August 24, 2013, 46-year-old Rikers Island inmate Carlos Mercado fell into a diabetic coma and then died. Less than three weeks later, on September 11, 39-year-old Rikers inmate Bradley Ballard died of diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious complication of the disease occurring when a diabetic does not get enough insulin.

Now, a year later, the families of both men have sued the city, charging that the jail caused the deaths by failing to provide the men adequate medical care for their disease.

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Mercado’s family filed suit on August 21, and Ballard’s family filed suit last week. Both listed as defendants the city, corrections officials, and the jail’s medical provider, Corizon Health. And both claimed that Rikers Island guards ignored the inmates’ attempts to obtain medical treatment.

Mercado had been arrested for heroin possession in August 2013. When he got to Rikers, the suit states, he “requested medical treatment for his diabetic condition.” The medical staff examined him and held him in a cell in the medical area of the jail.

But he did not receive any treatment for diabetes, according to the suit, and was shouting for help from his cell. He became unconscious the morning after his arrival, and medical personnel were unable to revive him.

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Ballard had been at Rikers when Mercado died. He was locked up for a parole violation in June 2013. He stayed in the mental health unit. In early September, he danced suggestively in front of a female guard and was punished by being locked in his cell for a week, according to the suit.

“During the time period, he was denied access to the food, water, and medical care that he needed to survive,” the complaint states. “The medicine he was supposed to take twice daily to control his diabetes and schizophrenia was withheld and not otherwise administrated to him.”

Without the schizophrenia medication, Ballard “engaged in self-mutilation.” He tied a rubber band around his genitals and the skin became infected after a few days. “He also defecated and vomited on himself.”

Medical workers entered his cell seven days after the punishment began, around midnight on the 11th. Ballard died hours later. In June, the city’s medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.