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Rally held calling for federal government to take over Rikers Island

Officials calling on feds to take over Rikers Island
Officials calling on feds to take over Rikers Island 02:37

NEW YORK -- Two top elected officials are calling on the feds to take over Rikers Island and are expected to introduce a resolution to City Council on Thursday.

It comes after the controversial death of Joshua Valles, a 31-year-old who was being held there.

CBS2's Lisa Rozner has an exclusive interview with one of the last people to speak with him before he died.

"He was loved. I need people to understand that," said Denise Barkley, lead navigator of OnPoint NYC.

Photos of Valles smiling and singing karaoke are how he's being remembered by the staff at the nonprofit, who say he visited almost every day for nearly three years.

OnPoint operates two overdose prevention sites in East Harlem and Washington Heights.

"Very gentle and kind," said Jason Beltre, director of community initiatives and impact for OnPoint.

"Joshua had a developmental delay, and it was very apparent," Barkley said.

Valles' attorney says he died more than a week ago at a hospital from a skull fracture, a different cause than what the Department of Correction allegedly told the federal monitor.

Valles has been held on Riker Island since April, accused by the district attorney of breaking into a Harlem pizza shop and stealing four tablets. The judge set bail at $10,000 because the DA said he didn't show up to court for previous arrests.

Valles' attorney has said he had a drug addiction.

The staff at OnPoint says they were in touch with him regularly even while he was on Rikers Island.

Barkley says she had a video visit with Valles the day before he was taken to the hospital.

"Did he say if he had been in a fight or anything?" Rozner asked.

"He never said anything like that ... He was just happy to be speaking to me," Barkley said. "He knew he was being released to treatment, then they had housing set up for him and he wanted to work."

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Comptroller Brad Lander inspected Rikers on Wednesday.

Williams says Valles is the 20th person to die there in the last 18 months and is now calling on the feds to step in and appoint an outside expert who would have the authority to set new rules and practices.

"We did see some issues there -- detainees who are shackled hand and foot for lengthy periods of time," Williams said. "No one on either side of those bars is safe."

In a statement, the mayor and the DOC commissioner said they are committed to fixing the city's jails, saying in part, "We have been working diligently to turn the Department of Correction around, reducing violence, bringing officers back to work, and working with all our partners to improve conditions. There has been a lot of progress as Comptroller Lander and Public Advocate Williams have acknowledged, and a federal receiver will not magically fix decades of dysfunction and mismanagement."

The issue has been heating up since the federal monitor released a report last month raising concerns about safety at Rikers.

A judge has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday to hear from the city on the matter.

We reached out to both U.S. attorneys for New York, and they declined to comment.  

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