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Questions surround death of Rikers Island detainee Joshua Valles

Questions surround death of Rikers Island detainee Joshua Valles
Questions surround death of Rikers Island detainee Joshua Valles 02:23

NEW YORK -- There are disturbing new questions after a man who had been held at Rikers Island since April died there Saturday.

A judge is now demanding answers from the city.

The family of 31-year-old Joshua Valles, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, native, says he was battling a drug addiction when he was arrested April 7 for allegedly breaking into a Harlem pizza shop and stealing four tablets.

The district attorney said he had three open cases and a bench warrant out for his arrest because he hadn't shown up to court, so the DA requested he be held on $10,000 bail, and Valles was sent to Rikers Island.

His lawyer says in May, he was arraigned and the DA agreed to drug court -- an alternative to incarceration -- but he never made it that far.

"The next thing we know is that last week we're notified that he was in the hospital and that he was brain dead," said Stan German, executive director of New York County Defender Services. "Thirty-one-year-old healthy male, you know, other than, you know, battling his addiction. But he was cognizant, he was aware, he was engaged with his case."

Saturday, he was taken off life support.

"They released information about, well, it appears that he was in a fight 30 days ago, so now they seem to be shifting positions," German said.

Valles' sudden hospitalization was highlighted in a recent report raising concerns about safety and transparency at Rikers Island. That report was produced by the court-appointed monitor for Rikers Island, Steve Martin.

Wednesday, Martin wrote a judge citing concerns about "potential reporting irregularities." Martin said the Department of Correction's legal counsel said "an autopsy revealed Valles died as a result of a fractured skull, in stark contrast to the headache or 'non-incident related condition or injury' that was reported."

"That has to have come from somewhere, something fractured his skull," said Kayla Simpson, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Prisoners' Rights Project. "The fact that that was not apparent to anyone, and that we still don't know how that occurred is incredibly disturbing."

The DOC commissioner previously told the monitor "there was no official wrongdoing."

The DOC told us Valles was released and no longer in custody at the time of his death.

The medical examiner tells us the cause and manner of death are pending further study.

Wednesday, a judge ordered the DOC provide more information by next Thursday for a hearing to be held June 13.

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