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Calls for Cuomo to take more action after 'vulnerable' Rikers inmate dies of COVID-19

Rikers Island
Posted at 11:58 AM, Apr 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 11:58:28-04

NEW YORK — After a Rikers Island detainee died Sunday from coronavirus complications, the Legal Aid Society is calling on the governor to take action to avoid further "catastrophe" at New York jails.

According to the criminal justice organization, their client Michael Tyson died at Bellevue Hospital Sunday after contracting the virus while being held at Rikers for a technical parole violation.

Officials said Tyson was initially admitted to Bellevue on March 26, just over a week after the first inmate coronavirus diagnosis at Rikers. It is not clear at this time if Tyson was that first diagnosis.

"Our deepest condolences go out to the detainee's family in their time of grief," Department of Correction Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Peter Thorne said Sunday. "The safety and well-being of those in our custody remains our number one priority."

However, the Legal Aid Society believes there is more the state, and in turn the department, could be doing to protect inmates at New York correctional facilities.

"We are both heartbroken and outraged," Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge at Legal Aid Society said in a statement Monday.

"This tragedy would have been entirely avoidable if only Governor Cuomo had directed DOCCS to act decisively from the outset of this epidemic to release incarcerated New Yorkers who, like Mr. Tyson, were especially vulnerable to the virus," Luongo said.

Hundreds of inmates had been released from city jails to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Prisons and jails are considered a potential epicenter the pandemic because many people share space.

Luongo said she fears that "as the virus reaches its apex, many more will succumb unless the governor and DOCCS act immediately."

"Cuomo has the authority to grant clemency and exercise other forms of executive authority to release our vulnerable clients and other incarcerated New Yorkers now," her statement reads. "It is time for the governor to employ the full breadth of those powers and to act without further delay to avoid catastrophe."

As of Sunday, New York remains the nation's epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, with a whopping 122,031 cases and over 4,100 deaths.

Cuomo said over the weekend that the infection numbers in New York seem to be perhaps reaching the apex.