Legal Aid and ECBA Reach Landmark $5.75 Million Settlement on Behalf of Prisoner Who Died at Rikers

The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady announced a settlement in the case of Bradley Ballard, whose horrific death at Rikers Island in 2013 was ruled a homicide. The settlement of $5,750,000 is the largest ever entered into by New York City for a death in custody.

Mr. Ballard, 39, was a seriously mentally ill and diabetic man who died in 2013 due to the abuse and cruelty of Department of Correction staff and the medical providers on Rikers Island. From the moment Mr. Ballard arrived at Rikers, on a parole violation for failing to change a report of address, his serious medical and mental health needs were mishandled by the City's health care contractor at the time, Corizon Health, Inc. The abuse took a macabre turn when Department of Correction staff illegally shut him in his cell as a rogue punishment for perceived rudeness, leaving him to decompensate without medication or treatment for his schizophrenia and diabetes. For seven days, until Mr. Ballard died on September 11, 2013, correction and medical staff walked by the locked cell without offering assistance, turned off the water to his cell, and ignored his obvious and fatally deteriorating state until it was too late.

Mr. Ballard’s death was unusual in its gruesomeness, and his suffering was unmatched as reflected by the historic settlement. But the torture he endured resulted from longstanding and known system failures that have plagued Rikers healthcare and supervision of medical and correction staff. In 2015, Corizon’s contract for healthcare was finally cancelled, though many of the correction staff who so woefully failed in their duties remain in the jails. Mr. Ballard's family can only hope that the City can usher in a new era of basic humanity and competence at Rikers. They hope that the settlement will spark a rigorous review of the cascade of failures and misconduct that caused Mr. Bradley's premature and painful death. No other patient, and no family, should have to endure their suffering.

Mr. Ballard's mother, Beverly Ann Griffin, was represented in this lawsuit by Jonathan S. Abady, Debra L. Greenberger and Hayley Horowitz of ECBA and Jonathan Chasan and Mary Lynne Werlwas of The Legal Aid Society.

The New York Times
City to Pay $5.75 Million Over Death of Mentally Ill Inmate at Rikers Island
By Benjamin Weiser
Sept. 27, 2016

New York City has agreed to pay $5.75 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from the 2013 death of a mentally ill inmate who was found naked and covered in urine and feces after being locked in a cell at Rikers Island for six days.

The settlement in Bradley Ballard’s death is apparently the largest the city has ever paid to settle a lawsuit over the death of an inmate in city custody.

Mr. Ballard’s death had led the State Commission of Correction to conclude that the treatment provided to Mr. Ballard by the city’s Correction Department and by a city contractor, Corizon Health, was “so incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience.”

The commission, a prison watchdog agency, said it found that Mr. Ballard, 39, was deprived of medication for his diabetes and schizophrenia, and even running water in his cell.

“Had Ballard received adequate and appropriate medical and mental health care and supervision and intervention when he became critically ill, his death would have been prevented,” the commission said.

The city medical examiner ruled that Mr. Ballard’s death was a homicide.

“This was a total system failure,” said Jonathan S. Abady, a lawyer with the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, which represented the family with the Legal Aid Society. “I don’t think anyone can recall a case where the abuse and mistreatment was more egregious.”

Mary Lynne Werlwas, director of the society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, said she hoped the settlement would “spark a rigorous review of the cascade of failures and misconduct that caused Mr. Ballard’s premature and painful death.”

Settlement papers in the case were filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Mr. Ballard was taken into custody in June 2013 on a parole violation for his failure to report an address change, the lawsuit said. In July, he was sent to the psychiatric prison ward at Bellevue Hospital Center, where he stayed for 38 days before being sent back to the mental health unit at Rikers.

On Sept. 4, he was locked in his cell as punishment for dancing in a way that caused offense to a female correction officer, the lawsuit said. “Not a single nurse, doctor or other medical or mental health provider entered his cell” during his confinement, the lawsuit alleged.

“Rather than provide the critical care required,” the lawsuit said, medical staff and correction officers, “who knew that Mr. Ballard could not survive without medication, essentially stood by and watched as Mr. Ballard languished, deteriorated and ultimately died.” He had tied a rubber band around his genitals, which had led to a severe infection, the suit added.

Joseph Ponte, the city’s correction commissioner, said in a statement: “Bradley Ballard’s death was a tragedy, and our hearts go out to his family. We have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of any inmate.”

The spokesman for the city’s Law Department, Nicholas Paolucci, said, “The settlement of this tragic case was fair and in the best interests of the city.” He confirmed that the settlement appeared to be the largest ever paid by the city to settle a lawsuit over the death of an inmate in city custody.

The city, in settling the case, said it was not admitting that it had “in any manner or way” violated Mr. Ballard’s rights.

Corizon Health, which was supposed to provide medical care in the jails, was a defendant in the lawsuit, but it will not be contributing to the settlement. Mr. Paolucci said the settlement was being paid entirely by the city.

Last year, the city’s Investigation Department issued a scathing report on Corizon, finding that it had hired employees with criminal convictions, including for murder and drug possession, and had failed to provide adequate care to inmates, two of whom — including Mr. Ballard — died.

The report was also critical of the Correction Department and the city agency with oversight of Corizon, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

After the Investigation Department released its findings in June 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would let its contract with Corizon expire; a city agency, NYC Health & Hospitals, now provides care in the city’s jails. A Corizon spokeswoman declined to comment.

The settlement continues a trend of multimillion-dollar payouts to resolve lawsuits involving inmate deaths while in custody at Rikers.

In July 2014, the city agreed to pay $2.75 million to resolve a wrongful-death lawsuit filed on behalf of Ronald Spear, an inmate who died after suffering “blunt force trauma” to the head, apparently inflicted by correction officers. Several months later, the city paid $2.25 million to the family of Jerome Murdough, an inmate who died when the temperature in his cell in a mental health unit at Rikers exceeded 100 degrees.

In November 2015, the city agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle lawsuits filed by the families of two Rikers inmates who died while in custody.