Chris Gelardi


‘No B Officer’: How an Understaffed Rikers Island Allowed Another Suicide

Read the full piece in New York Focus

Kevin Bryan was distressed throughout his last six days of life on Rikers Island. His pens at the Eric M. Taylor Center’s intake area were so crowded that he slept on the floor, using his shoe as a pillow. He languished there for 23 hours, until he was sent to a new arrivals dorm, where he paced around, antsy that he was unable to leave. For his release, a judge had required $5,000 bail — or a smaller deposit on a larger bond — but his family couldn’t afford to pay either. One of his dormmates said he was frequently bullied and “looking for a group to connect with.”

September 14 was supposed to be Bryan’s seventh day. Early that morning, men in the jail became annoyed with him and tried to kick him out of the housing area. There was no officer patrolling the floor. So the sole guard present — assigned to a control room that operates the dorm doors — let Bryan drag his bedding into a vestibule just outside. Around 5:25 am, he lay down on the floor across from a staff bathroom.

Forty-five minutes later, Bryan, 35, locked himself in that bathroom and hanged himself with his bed sheet. His was the 14th of 19 deaths in Rikers custody so far this year.

New documents obtained by New York Focus via a public records request offer minute-by-minute details about Bryan’s chaotic final days at Rikers, where dysfunction has driven rampant violence, drug overdoses, and suicides. Nearly 60 people have died at the facility in the last six years. With attempted reforms still failing, a court is threatening to hand administration of the notorious complex over to the federal government.

The documents illustrate how the same staffing issues that have contributed to other recent Rikers deaths gave Bryan the window he needed to take his own life.

At minimum, Rikers housing areas are supposed to have an officer in the control room, known as the “A-post,” and an officer stationed on the floor to directly watch over residents, or “B-post.” But that’s often not the case. Bryan’s dorm hadn’t had a B-post officer working in at least 30 hours, the records show, forcing the A-post guard to make do when roughly half a dozen of his dormmates moved to expel him.

Two days before Bryan’s death, the city Board of Correction — an independent jail oversight agency — published a report outlining in part how a lack of B-post staffing contributed to two suicides in 2021. Other board reports have pointed to B-post absences as enabling at least two other Rikers deaths this year; one report called the B-post “the first line of response when emergencies occur.”

When Bryan died, his housing area hadn’t had a floor officer on duty in at least 30 hours.

A death just a month before Bryan’s took place under remarkably similar circumstances. Like Bryan, 68-year-old Ricardo Cruciani was housed in a dorm-style general population area at the Eric M. Taylor Center. After peeking into the A-post station early one morning, Cruciani took bedding into a shower stall and hanged himself. There had been no B-post officer on duty for more than a day.

According to experts, direct, in-dorm supervision is especially important in new arrivals areas like the Taylor Center’s, as some four in 10 jail suicides in the United States — the leading cause of death for jailed people — take place within the first seven days of detention.

In the wake of Bryan’s suicide, the corrections officers union blamed city administration for staffing troubles, arguing that the City Council needs to allocate resources to hire more officers amid high retirement rates. But the New York City Department of Correction, which runs Rikers, is already the most richly staffed jail agency in the country. For five years, it has had more uniformed officers than people they incarcerate.

Yet thousands of those officers rarely show up for work. Nearly three years of widespread officer absenteeism — enabled by mass sickouts and lax disciplinary policies — have led to routinely unstaffed posts, fueling violence and medical neglect. Some officers have expressed a reluctance to work amid high rates of violence, suggesting a feedback loop between staff absences and deteriorating conditions.

At the beginning of 2022, 42 percent of uniformed city corrections officers were either out sick (excluding those quarantining for Covid-19 exposure), on leave, on medically restricted duty that precluded them from interacting with incarcerated people, or AWOL, according to data obtained by New York Focus. Zero had tested positive for Covid.

During the month that Bryan died, one in five officers were either out sick or on medically restricted duty.

The Department of Correction did not respond to requests for comment.

Create a website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: