Saturday, December 4, 2021

After Years of Problems, Rikers Island Inmate Receives Funded Settlement

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“I want to be normal, like everyone else,” Stanton Cortez says of the horrors he endured at Rikers Island prison in New York. “I want my family to visit. I want to have nice kids. That’s what I want, just the normalcy.”

But before he could even have that opportunity, Mr. Cortez was cut down.

Mr. Cortez, 25, was charged with murder after he allegedly slashed the face of a New York City taxi driver, Khallid Muhammad, in Queens, just before sunrise on Oct. 14. Mr. Cortez had reportedly admitted that he had killed the cabbie after the two argued after the latter refused to give him a ride.

According to police, Mr. Cortez rode a Manhattan Transit bus and then was picked up by the cab near Queens Boulevard in Corona. That is where his violent assault occurred.

Mr. Cortez’s problems began back in July 2017, when he sent his mother a series of emails, pleading with her for help. Mr. Cortez was suicidal. His family would not comment on the matter.

But like so many other mentally ill inmates at Rikers, Mr. Cortez was left without proper treatment. In fact, he was recently moved to a female jail after learning that he is transgender.

In 2013, Mr. Cortez sued the city. The lawsuit alleged that since the age of 14, Mr. Cortez had been diagnosed with a “serious illness” – which it was not clear what – and was sexually assaulted at Rikers Island.

Mr. Cortez was transferred to the women’s wing of Rikers on Oct. 9. It is unclear when Mr. Cortez entered the “Female Orientation and Assessment Unit.” He was granted a 30-day transfer out of Rikers Island on Nov. 8.

Advocates say that Mr. Cortez should have been moved back to a men’s prison a long time ago, but the city was first required to prove that there was a significant danger. In Mr. Cortez’s case, that finding was rendered in July.

The city’s health department declined to comment.

Mr. Cortez’s sister, who goes by Nidia, wrote in a Facebook message to The New York Times about the pain of watching her brother’s last days at Rikers.

“In any other other case, my brother, in that moment would have had medical care immediately, without being put into a situation where the highest priority was not coming back to him,” Ms. Cortez wrote. “Not getting the care he needs, and he just watched as others were given that.”

Her brother was removed from the isolation cell where he was held, Ms. Cortez wrote, and was initially taken to Elmhurst Hospital for treatment.

After much waiting, Mr. Cortez was taken to Brooklyn’s Woodhull Hospital and then transferred to the city’s psychiatric hospital, Oneida Healthcare Center in Brooklyn. He was eventually moved back to the facilities in Manhattan that hold the most mentally ill inmates.

Mr. Cortez was scheduled to be the beneficiary of a $3 million settlement with the city.

“All I wanted was a home,” Mr. Cortez wrote in his letter to his mother. “I know that life on the streets isn’t easy, but don’t bring that to Rikers,” he added. “We can live together.”

He added that he loved his young son. He also wrote that he was sorry to learn that he had been “sent here to hurt somebody.”

“I just want to be normal, like everyone else,” he concluded.

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