New York, NY — Eight minutes — this is the amount of time multiple officers and a captain stood by and watched as 18-year-old Nicholas Feliciano wrapped a homemade noose around his neck and proceeded to hang himself in a jail cell. More than a half dozen officers and jail staff did nothing as he hung from his neck, flailed around before going completely limp.
Only after watching the 18-year-old go still and his lifeless body hang limp in the jail cell did anyone move to cut him down. On Nov. 27, 2019, the rope was cut and Feliciano’s limp body slammed to the floor.
According to court documents, Feliciano used a sweater to try to hang himself from a U-shaped piece of metal in the ceiling above the toilet. The ceiling fixture was supposed to have been removed after another detainee had used it to attempt suicide six days earlier. It was not.
For seven minutes and 51 seconds, seven correction officers, a captain and two paramedics walked by or watched on from a guard station as Feliciano hung himself, and according to the surveillance footage, not a single one of them acted.
For three years as Feliciano remained hospitalized with severe brain damage, requiring round-the-clock care, not a single one of the officers faced charges, and, in fact, they all continued to collect their paychecks from the New York City Department of Corrections.
Last week, however, that changed and Darcel D. Clark, the Bronx district attorney who has jurisdiction over Rikers Island, filed felony charges against four of the officers involved.
The NY Times reports:
A spokeswoman for the Bronx district attorney’s office said that the cases against the guards took nearly three years to prosecute because the city Department of Investigation brought them first to federal prosecutors before taking them to Ms. Clark’s office.
Charged with official misconduct and reckless endangerment on Monday were the correction captain, Terry Henry, 37, and Officers Kenneth Hood, 35, Daniel Fullerton, 27, and Mark Wilson, 46. All four men pleaded not guilty and were released without bail. Their lawyers declined to comment.
Mr. Feliciano’s family welcomed the charges against the officers on Monday but said they were too slow in coming.
“These officers should have been indicted a long time ago instead of still working at Rikers Island while Nicholas was still in the hospital trying to live,” Feliciano’s grandmother, Madeline Feliciano, said in an interview. “It hurts. It’s very painful. It is devastating to see him the way he is because of somebody’s negligence.”
Despite the fact that four other officers were present and watching Feliciano hang himself, none of them have been charged or fired and all but one is still working at Rikers.
Naturally, the officer’s union president is upset that their corrections officers would be charged for something as “harmless” as watching a teenager string himself up to commit suicide and not acting on it.
Benny Boscio, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, called the charges “further evidence that this case is being driven more by politics than by facts.”
Yet it was a fact that these officers did nothing as a teenager hanged himself in front of them. It is also a fact that Feliciano had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts and this was well documented at the time. Nevertheless, jail staff was completely careless when Feliciano was taken in from a parole violation charge for a previous stint in juvenile detention and this resulted in ruinous injuries.
For the rest of his life, as the Times points out, Feliciano will remain at Bellevue’s brain injury unit, where he uses a walker to get around. He cannot eat by himself or brush his teeth or get dressed without help.
“It’s so frustrating to see literally the same neglect kill and catastrophically injure person after person,” Feliciano’s lawyer, David B. Rankin said, adding: “The idea it has taken this long with this much evidence is an issue.”