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Another Death at Rikers Continues ‘Very Difficult Year’ at N.Y.C. Jails

A Brooklyn man being held at the Rikers Island jail complex died on Friday after a medical emergency — becoming the 15th person to die this year at a time when New York City’s correction system has been embroiled in a continuing crisis.

The man, Malcolm Boatwright, 28, had been at the Bellevue Hospital Center since Thursday after having seizures, correction and union officials said. He died early on Friday morning after cardiac arrest, though an official cause of death was still pending.

Mr. Boatwright, who had autism, had been detained for nearly a month on sexual abuse charges and related offenses, court records show. He had been ordered held on Rikers Island pending the results of a psychiatric exam that had been requested by his defense lawyer on the case, in which he had been accused of touching a 6-year-old boy’s genitals.

Officials have struggled to respond to converging crises — a pandemic and a staffing problem that has crippled the correction system. This has been the deadliest year in New York City jails since 2016.

“This is a heartbreaking loss at the end of a very difficult year,” Vincent N. Schiraldi, the city’s jails commissioner, said in a statement on Friday.

His death comes just days after a federal monitor appointed to oversee reforms at the troubled jail complex wrote in his latest report that the Department of Correction was “trapped in a state of disrepair” with no sign of major improvement, calling it a system that is “rife with violence and disorder.”

Mr. Boatwright’s mother, Lashawn Boatwright, said that her son had the mind of an 11-year-old, but that he had been in good physical health when he entered Rikers.

During a phone conversation this week, Ms. Boatwright recounted, her son spoke cryptically about his experience at the jail. He said that he thought one correction officer disliked him and that a detainee had given him a “warning.” The next day, Mr. Boatwright told his mother he had hit his head.

“I said, ‘Malcolm, did somebody hit you?’ He brushed it off,” she said, adding that he said that he had had a seizure, though he had no history of them. He declined to give his mother additional details, noting that he did not trust the people around him.

While at Bellevue, Mr. Boatwright told his mother that he had been checked out and was being returned to the jail.

“He never made it,” she said.

An officer touring the hospital ward found Mr. Boatwright on the floor, and he appeared ill and unresponsive, said Joseph Russo, president of the union representing deputy wardens and assistant deputy wardens. The officer called for medical assistance, but Mr. Boatwright went into cardiac arrest, Mr. Russo said.

Mr. Boatwright had told his mother that the conditions in the jail, where he had been held since Nov. 12, were terrible.

“He was scared to take a shower,” she said, adding that he said other detainees had threatened him and thrown hot water, feces and urine on him.

Ms. Boatwright said that her son had proclaimed his innocence and planned on pleading not guilty to the latest charges.

Before his latest arrest, Mr. Boatwright lived in an inpatient rehabilitation center in Brooklyn where he had been receiving services.

Mr. Boatwright had a history of child sexual abuse charges.

In 2012, prosecutors said he had placed his mouth on a 7-year-old boy’s genitals. He was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse and sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years on probation, according to court records.

In 2013, he pleaded guilty to charges of criminal contempt for violating an order of protection that required him to stay away from the child. He was scheduled to be sentenced the next year, but absconded, until he was arrested last month.

According to the state’s Sex Offender Registry, Mr. Boatwright was listed as a Level 1 offender, which for him meant a lifetime listing because the offense was deemed violent.

Hemangi Pai, now a supervising lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services, who represented Mr. Boatwright in 2013, remembered him as a “kind young man” who struggled with a history of trauma and cognitive deficiencies.

Ms. Pai said Mr. Boatwright was victimized during that stint in jail and the experience had stayed with him.

“He would cry the whole time because of how horrible the experience was,” she said. “Just seeing this young man who had so many issues — he didn’t need to be incarcerated.”

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