NEWS: “No Escape” from Solitary on Rikers Island

By Maura R. O’Connor. Excerpted from the New York World.

rasaun-300x169In his Bronx courtroom, Judge William Mogulescu stores case files in standard-issue gray cabinets, each drawer labeled with the year the cases within it originated. The oldest, “2008,” is nearly empty, with the exception of a bursting and battered legal-size folder.

Inside sit the traces of a court case that has stretched on for more than four years, through at least a dozen motions, four lawyers, five judges and nearly 50 court dates. That does not include the four civil rights suits filed in federal court by the defendant, who entered the court system on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

This file encompasses the harrowing story of Rasaun Bullock, a now 39-year-old man from the Bronx who spent more than four years incarcerated on Rikers Island. He endured at least 49 months of those in solitary confinement.

I have been locked in a room 24-7 for 2008 to present (today is 2011),” Bullock wrote in one of his civil rights complaints. “DOC yells at me & say they say you crazy- and that makes me sad & mad upset (very sad & upset).”

The astonishing length of Bullock’s incarceration and legal proceedings has gained him notoriety in this Bronx courtroom. So has his relentlessness in pursuing justice. “In all the years I’ve been on the bench, he is the only defendant that got my chambers’ number and was able to call my chambers,” said Judge Mogulescu, who has presided over the case since September 2011. “I have no clue how he got it.”

The judge declined to comment further because Bullock’s case will most likely enter an appeal process.

Bullock is among many defendants at Rikers who have stayed behind bars for years while their criminal trials grind forward. Like hundreds of other inmates at any given time, he was kept in solitary confinement, under conditions that mental health research has found can cause serious psychological deterioration. In Bullock’s case, his torments made it difficult, if not impossible, for him to get a speedy trial.

Read the rest here.

NEWS: “Sick and in Solitary” on Rikers Island

By Maura R. O’Connor. Excerpted from The New York World.

rikers1Last summer, a 25-year-old robbery suspect at Rikers Island took a ball of concentrated soap meant to clean his jail cell and swallowed it. Jason Echeverria had been held for two months inside the Department of Correction’s Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates, where the confined typically spend 23 hours a day on lockdown. By swallowing the soap, Echeverria hoped to spring himself from his confinement; instead, for 20 minutes a corrections supervisor ignored his condition as he became violently sick and eventually died from the poisoning. The city’s medical examiner has found that the lack of immediate medical treatment constituted a homicide.

While Echeverria was being held in punitive segregation, New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro was assuring the city’s Board of Correction, which monitors her agency, that a long-awaited blueprint for dealing with the growing ranks of mentally ill at Rikers was nearing completion.

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