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Rikers Island Reports 2nd Inmate Death In Less Than A Week

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Another death connected to Rikers Island has been reported.

New York City's Department of Correction says 55-year-old William Brown, who was in custody for a month, had a medical emergency Tuesday and passed away that night.

There have been 16 deaths involving detainees this year. Fourteen of them were people in custody on Rikers Island, while the other two passed away after being granted compassionate release, according to the DOC.

The current death toll is more than double the amount officials reported in 2020 -- seven.

The rising numbers are raising concerns for those who have been fighting for changes.

"There was also no surprise," former inmate Darren Mack said.

That's the reaction Mack had after learning another inmate in less than a week died on Rikers Island.

Mack said he spent nearly two years on Rikers back in the '90s, and the former inmate says the conditions were not great.

"I recall, like, walking into solitary confinement, and there was, like, a Plexiglas over one of the cells and the cell Plexiglas was covered from top to bottom with feces," he said.

Tyrone Greene, an inmate currently in custody on Rikers Island for criminal possession of firearms, spoke exclusively to CBS2's Cory James over the phone after learning another inmate died while in custody.

"I have stents in my heart," Greene said. "I have chronic asthma, and I'm post-diabetic."

A class action lawsuit described what Greene told CBS2.

"It's really, like, horrifying," he said.

He says he's gone days without receiving life-saving medications.

"There were times that I wouldn't get it maybe three, four times out of the week," Greene said.

Alice Fontier works with the Neighborhood Defender Service. She says the latest death shows officials cannot wait until 2026 to make changes.

"We've been talking about this all year. We talked about this last week and nothing is getting done. This lies at the feet of the entire system who is putting people in these conditions. That's DAs, that's judges, that's DOC, that's everybody that has anything to do with this system," Fontier said.

In a statement, the Legal Aid Society said:

"We are saddened and outraged that another New Yorker, William Brown, has died at Rikers Island, which continues to grapple with an out-of-control humanitarian crisis. His death, the 16th this year alone, is unconscionable and could have been prevented had those in power listened to the calls from defenders and others to decarcerate our City jails.

"These deaths represent a failure by DOC to keep our clients safe and alive. Without systemic changes that address the criminalization of poverty and the underfunding of mental health services, as well as a shift from the default reliance on law enforcement to respond to a myriad of societal issues, these tragedies will only continue.

"We need solutions that strike at the root cause of these issues, including investment in preventive resources. We call on Albany to pass the pending Treatment Not Jail legislation to expand mental health services to interrupt the cycle of incarceration that claimed Mr. Brown's life. All the money that the City spends to cage our clients continues to yield the same outcomes. We need wholesale change and urge the incoming Adams Administration and state leaders to deliver on this overdue priority."

In a statement, DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi says he is "devastated to know another person entrusted in our care has passed away," adding they will work diligently to determine the circumstance surrounding his death. The commissioner also expressed his condolences to the Brown family.

Greene hopes the DOC's focus will also address staffing, something he believes could have prevented him from being stabbed by other inmates weeks ago.

"When I was attacked, there was no officer working on the floor, and that was a Monday," he said. "And they wasn't really trying to give me no medical attention here, but then my attorney called up here, and then they seen me a doctor and that's when they put me in for an x-ray and I went to the x-ray Friday."

Greene says he got that x-ray about 11 days after he was attacked and left with injuries to his leg, head and ribs.

CBS2 reached out to the DOC to learn more about what Greene is alleging. A spokesperson says they are looking into his claims.

Meanwhile, Brown's cause of death is under investigation, and officials are waiting for results from the medical examiner's office.

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