Prisoners' Rights Project and Emery Celli File Federal Suit On Behalf of Bradley Ballard's Mother, Charging Guards And Medical Personnel Watched As Mr. Ballard Languished, Deteriorated And Died
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2014

The Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project and the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP filed a federal lawsuit last week on behalf of Beverly Ann Griffin, the mother of Bradley Ballard, a mentally ill inmate who died in New York City Department of Correction custody last year after seven days of solitary confinement. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Mr. Ballard's death a homicide.

The lawsuit charges that correction officers and medical staff, rather than provide the critical care he required, “essentially stood by and watched as Mr. Ballard languished, deteriorated and ultimately died.” The lawsuit also contends that jail and medical personnel should have been aware of Mr. Ballard’s mental illness and “history of self-harm,” noting that records show that he had recently been treated for “self-inflicted lacerations and scratches to his head and forearms.”

The Prisoners' Rights Project is recognized nationally as a leading advocate for constitutional and humane conditions of confinement for inmates and prisoners incarcerated in the City and State correctional system. Jonathan Chasan, a Supervising Attorney in PRP, and Mary Lynne Werlwas, a Staff Attorney, are handling the case with lawyers from Emery Celli.

The details of Mr. Ballard's death were first reported by The Associated Press. The stories prompted lawmakers to call oversight hearings and elicited promises for reform by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed a task-force designed to overhaul the corrections system for the mentally ill.




The New York Times
Family of Mentally Ill Rikers Inmate Sues New York City Over His Death
By Benjamin Weiser and Michael Winerip
September 10, 2014

The night Bradley Ballard died, he lay naked on the floor of his cell at Rikers Island, weak and covered with feces. He had not been given medication for his schizophrenia and diabetes. Unbeknown to correction officers in the mental health unit, where he had been confined for seven days, he had tied a rubber band around his genitals, causing them to become badly infected, city investigators concluded.

Guards peered into his cell repeatedly that evening, before finally summoning medical personnel, a city memo says. They took Mr. Ballard, 39, to the hospital, where he died early the next morning. The medical examiner’s office ruled Mr. Ballard’s death a homicide. But in a jail system that has been the subject of mounting scrutiny this year because of pervasive violence against prisoners, the circumstances of his solitary death were different, his lawyers say: He was ignored.

On Wednesday, lawyers for his mother and his estate sued New York City; correction officials; a contractor, Corizon Health Inc., that provides medical services in the jails; and three doctors and other personnel. The lawsuit charges that correction officers and medical staff, rather than provide the critical care he required, “essentially stood by and watched as Mr. Ballard languished, deteriorated and ultimately died.”

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, comes at a time of increased focus on conditions at Rikers. Last month, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, released a 79-page report that found “a deep-seated culture of violence” by staff members against teenage inmates and a failure to punish guards who used excessive force. An investigation by The New York Times, published in July, detailed 129 cases over an 11-month period last year in which inmates, many of them suffering from mental illnesses, were seriously injured in assaults by jail staff. Criminal prosecution of abusive guards has also been rare, The Times found.

A Law Department spokesman said, “We will review the lawsuit.” The offices of the Bronx district attorney and the Department of Investigation each said this week that they were investigating Mr. Ballard’s death on Sept. 11, 2013. He was taken into custody that June on a parole violation for failing to report a change of address, according to the memo, which details the preliminary findings of an investigation by the Board of Correction, a city agency that monitors conditions at Rikers and investigates serious incidents. The memo was obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Law request. Details of the findings were first reported by The Associated Press earlier this year.

Mr. Ballard’s mother, Beverly Ann Griffin, 61, who lives in Houston, blamed the correction department for her son’s death. “You are there to correct the inmate, not to destroy him,” she said during a news conference Wednesday at her lawyer’s office in Manhattan.

Ms. Griffin wept repeatedly as she read from a hand-written statement. “I feel like a big cut in me from the loss of my baby,” she said. “A child should bury a parent, not a parent bury a child.”

On July 1, 2013, Mr. Ballard was sent to Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward, the memo says, where he stayed for 38 days; he was then discharged and returned to Rikers, where he remained in the mental health unit until his death.

On the afternoon of Sept. 4, he was locked in his cell by correction officers after he took off his shirt and began to dance suggestively, the memo says. He remained in the cell over the next week, where the lawsuit says he went at least two days without being offered food. Mental health personnel were supposed to visit him twice daily to administer medication but for most of the week, he did not receive any, according to the memo.

By Sept. 10, Mr. Ballard had “vomited and defecated on himself as his body began to shut down,” the lawsuit says.

At 8:35 p.m. that day, an officer peered in and kicked the cell door several times, according to the city memo. Other officers looked in at 8:43, 9:05, 9:12, 9:42, 9:44, 9:46, 10:23, 10:25, 10:29 and 10:49. Finally, medical personnel were called.

The medical personnel arrived but did not enter his cell; instead, they handed two inmate workers a blanket and gloves and instructed them to go in. The workers, covering their faces apparently because of the odor, said later that Mr. Ballard had tried to move but could not. After they finally placed him on a gurney and moved him into the hallway, the medical staff members saw that he had tied a rubber band tightly around his genitals, where it had remained unnoticed until skin had begun rotting off, the lawsuit says.

“Mr. Ballard was clearly on the brink of death, yet he lay neglected on the gurney,” the lawsuit says, as a doctor and a nurse “held back, unwilling even to touch his body. For an inexcusable period, they continued to stand idly by and do nothing.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society and the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, also contends that jail and medical personnel should have been aware of Mr. Ballard’s mental illness and “history of self-harm,” noting that records show that he had recently been treated for “self-inflicted lacerations and scratches to his head and forearms.”

Mr. Ballard was eventually taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:42 a.m., the memo says.

The ruling by the medical examiner’s office that Mr. Ballard’s death was a homicide means that it was at the hand of another person. The office listed the cause as diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious diabetic complication, and said “genital ischemia due to binding of genitals” and schizophrenia were contributing conditions.

Ms. Griffin, the mother, said it was not until Friday, Sept. 13, two days after her son died, that she got a call from the correction department informing her. “They said it was a heart attack,” she said.




Associated Press
U.S.Lawsuit Filed Over Inmate's Death in NYC Cell
By Jake Pearson

NEW YORK — Sep 10, 2014, The mother of a mentally ill and diabetic New York City inmate who died after spending seven days locked inside a Rikers Island jail cell filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the city.

Beverly Ann Griffin said her 39-year-old son, Bradley Ballard, was denied medication, ignored and neglected by jail guards and medical staff.

At a news conference at her lawyer's office, a sobbing Griffin read from a statement telling those who ignored Ballard they have to "live with what you did."

"When you took my son away from me, part of me died too," Griffin said. "I will never be the same again."

Though guards peered in Ballard's cell dozens of times during his extended lockup, they didn't venture inside until it was too late, according to investigative documents. They found him unresponsive, naked, covered in feces, with a rubber band tied tightly around his genitals. He was rushed to a hospital, where he later died.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, argues that Ballard's death was not an isolated incident and that city jails have been unfit to handle mentally ill inmates for decades.

The city's Law Department said it would review the suit.

The gruesome September 2013 death came six months before another seriously mentally ill inmate died in a 101-degree cell in a similar mental observation unit at Rikers.

The details of both deaths were first reported by The Associated Press. The AP stories prompted lawmakers to call oversight hearings and elicited promises for reform by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed a task-force designed to overhaul the corrections system for the mentally ill.

About 40 percent of the roughly 11,500 daily New York City inmates have a mental health diagnosis, officials say. About a third of them suffer from serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Ballard, who family members say suffered from schizophrenia, had been confined to his cell for seven days for making a lewd gesture at a female guard, according to interviews and documents obtained by the AP. For most of that time, the documents showed, he was not given his medication.

A medical examiner found the main cause of death was diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurs when people don't have enough insulin and the liver breaks down fat instead. His death was ruled a homicide and prosecutors are investigating.

Mental health staffers visited Ballard's cell only once before he was discovered to be in distress, the documents showed. None of the 53 officers who worked in the unit in the days leading up to his death had received a required annual refresher course on mental health, the documents showed.