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Morning Spew

Eric Adams’s Correction Department Makes It Even Harder to See What’s Happening on Rikers Island

A Department of Correction shift comes after damning reporting, and other links to start your day.

10:03 AM EST on January 19, 2023

(Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office)

Last week, Hell Gate reported on the life and death of 28-year-old Erick Tavira, a New Yorker struggling with mental health issues who, after he went to a hospital to get help, was ultimately sent to Rikers Island, where he died. Tavira became the 17th person to die in the City's jails in 2022. In addition to Hell Gate's reporting, NY1 was able to obtain body-worn camera footage from inside Rikers that showed officers spraying Tavira with a chemical agent after he resisted being moved to a crowded mental health unit on the island. According to the most recent statistics, 19 percent of the people incarcerated on Rikers have a serious mental illness.

The footage was obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request by NY1 to the Board of Correction, the oversight body tasked with monitoring conditions in the City's jails. For years, the Board of Correction has had unfettered real-time access to security cameras on Rikers Island, as dictated by the City Charter.

Now, after the string of unflattering coverage, that policy has changed: As of last week, the BOC no longer has independent real-time access to footage taken on the island, including feeds from Genetec, its security camera system. 

"The Department of Correction recently revoked the Board staff's access to independently view Genetec, the Body worn Camera System, and handheld video at any time, and forbade the recording and use of such video in our work," a press release from the Board of Correction announced. "The revocation of access to video at any time stands at odds with the New York City Charter."

BOC employees who would like to view security footage must now go to DOC headquarters, but can only do so between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and only on weekdays. 

Reached for comment by Hell Gate, the DOC said that the agency remains committed to "transparency," and that "a change in protocol was made concerning how—not if—the Board of Correction can access all real-time DOC camera footage. BOC members are able to view footage at a designated location, which does not impede their ability to perform oversight of our jails and aligns with the City Charter."

Both City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and the council's criminal justice committee chair Carlina Rivera were disturbed by the shift, and called for the DOC to "immediately reverse this dangerous and legally dubious revocation of access for its oversight entity."  

DOC Commissioner Louis Molina has rolled back many of the reforms put in place by his predecessors, even as deaths continue to mount on the island; meanwhile, a federal judge continues to hold off on letting the federal government take over the jail. Ultimately, responsibility for the DOC falls to City Hall, and to Mayor Eric Adams, who appointed Molina and has staunchly defended him at every turn. City Hall did not return a request for comment.

Some links to start your rainy Thursday:

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