ECBAWM Files Federal Suit Seeking Accountability for Jose Mejia Martinez’s Preventable Death at Rikers Island

  • June 20, 2023

Last week, ECBAWM filed a wrongful death and civil rights suit on behalf of the estate of Jose Mejia Martinez, a man who died of a drug overdose on June 10, 2021, while incarcerated at Rikers Island, New York City’s troubled jail complex. At the time of his death, Mr. Mejia Martinez, who had struggled with substance abuse, was incarcerated for allegedly committing a minor shoplifting offense.

The suit alleges that City correctional officers stood idly by while Mr. Mejia visibly overdosed on methadone for several hours in common areas and in a cell at the George R. Vierno Center, a Rikers jail operated by the City’s Department of Correction (“DOC”). Mr. Mejia Martinez’s tragic death was the consequence of an ongoing crisis within the City’s jail system, which, the suit alleges, is chronically understaffed and where correctional officers routinely ignore incarcerated people who are experiencing a drug overdose or other medical emergency. According to a 2022 report by the Board of Correction, the agency tasked with oversight of the City’s jails, “[t]he prevalence of drugs [at Rikers], often laced with fentanyl, combined with deficient supervision and reduced staffing, threatens the lives of those in custody on a daily basis.” Mr. Mejia Martinez was one of 16 people who died while incarcerated in a DOC jail in 2021. That number increased in 2022, when 19 people died while in DOC custody.

“The city has allowed DOC staff to sit by and let incarcerated people die in medical emergencies, and for years it has done nothing,” said ECBAWM attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Nick Bourland. “How many more people need to die as prisoners on Rikers Island from entirely preventable causes before the City acts?”

Mr. Mejia Martinez’s estate is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Nick Bourland. Read more about the suit here.