At least four correction officers on Rikers Island have been suspended following reports that they stood watch as a teenage detainee attempted to hang himself last week, refusing to intervene for several minutes as the young man appeared to reverse his decision.
The Times first reported that 18-year-old Nicholas Feliciano was in a holding area, in full view of a guard desk and several cameras, when he attempted to take his own life on Thanksgiving. Footage seen by sources allegedly shows the officers passively observing the teenager hanging from a pipe for seven minutes:
"On the video, which was described to The Times, one officer can be seen going to the pen where Mr. Feliciano was hanging, opening the door, closing the door without entering and then walking away, the person said..."
Mr. Feliciano tied one end of a garment around his neck and the other around a pipe on the ceiling while standing on a waist-high partition separating a toilet from the rest of the pen, several of the people with knowledge of the matter said. He then stepped off the partition, the people said.
At some point, one of the people said, Mr. Feliciano apparently had second thoughts about what he was doing as he began to choke and tried to put his feet back on the partition in hopes of saving himself."
A spokesperson for the Department of Correction confirmed that the 18-year-old detainee was found unresponsive around midnight. He was taken to a nearby hospital and reportedly placed in a medically induced coma, and is currently on a respirator with no brain activity.
In a statement, DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann called the allegations "extremely troubling." She said that three officers and one captain had already been suspended, "and if the outcome of the investigation warrants we will take appropriate disciplinary action up to and including termination."
According to the Times, Feliciano was arrested on November 19th for violating his parole. The number of technical parole violators forced to return to Rikers has continued to climb, even as the city jails' population has steadily shrunk ahead of its planned closure in 2026.
Feliciano was believed to have been transferred from Rikers' George R. Vierno Center to the general intake center after getting into a fight. Sources told the Times that he appeared to be distressed prior to the attempted hanging.
"This outcome underscores the New York City Department of Correction's inability to safeguard the youngest people in its custody," the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. "It represents a colossal failure of supervision and leadership, one for which we demand answers before another New Yorker leaves the New York City jails in critical condition.”
Since 2001, at least 372 people have died in New York City Department of Correction custody, the Queens Daily Eagle reported earlier this year.
The Department of Investigation is conducting an independent inquiry.