The system is broken y’all.
A young gay man with Asperger’s Syndrome was brutally murdered at Rikers Island earlier this month after being unable to raise his one dollar in bail. Gay City News: Esias “Izzy” Johnson, a Massachusetts native remembered by his parents as an intelligent, kindhearted young man, was found dead at 9:45 a.m. on September 7 after he spent an entire month trying unsuccessfully to get released on his $1 bail. He is one of 11 people who have died at the notorious jail complex this year alone.
NEW: The family of a gay man who died at Rikers and their attorney are demanding answers about his death after they said his cries for medical help were ignored in the time leading up to his death. https://t.co/P89MoePjNY
— Matt Tracy (@matthewtracy) September 22, 2021
The city’s chief medical examiner told Gay City News the cause and manner of Johnson’s are pending “further studies.” A New York Daily News report published just hours after he died cited a source claiming he suffered a fatal overdose — and Johnson’s family learned of that claim in the news — though they have not been informed of any official cause of death and they are hesitant to draw any sweeping conclusions.
“Inmates came forward saying he had been complaining of stomach pain for days,” Johnson’s mother, Tracy Johnson, told Gay City News in an interview on September 19. “Inmates said he had been screaming all night for help, and come morning time, he couldn’t get out of bed. He never got out of bed for breakfast.”
She added, “I think they put a drug overdose to cover up that they weren’t taking care of him or helping him.”
The family’s attorney, Jamie Santana, told Gay City News that he believes “multiple inmates saw and heard” Johnson in pain and “witnessed that he received zero medical attention.” Santana said Johnson’s calls for medical attention “were heard and known by the facility.”
“We do believe that Rikers Island was negligent with respect to the duty of care,” Santana said on September 20. “It certainly appears they failed at providing any medical attention.”
Johnson’s death marked the tragic culmination of a tumultuous month riddled with frustration and endless setbacks. He was arrested on a misdemeanor menacing charge in New York City, but was sent to Rikers after authorities saw that he also had a warrant out for his arrest stemming from a separate case in New Jersey. His family and their attorney believe he never should have wound up at Rikers — and at the very least, he should have been able to get out in a timely manner.
“He said he had problems with his court dates,” Johnson’s mother said. “He wasn’t being taken to them. He had a date on the 18th of August and I gave him all the info. He passed all the information to the appropriate people. It was a phone court appointment, but they never set it up for him. He said, ‘I’m missing court dates like crazy, mom, they’re not doing anything.’”
Department of Correction (DOC) Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said in a written statement that “the circumstances surrounding this death will receive a full investigation,” but a spokesperson denied that the DOC failed to make sure Johnson attended court appointments. According to the DOC, both of Johnson’s cases — the one in New York City and in New Jersey — were adjourned to August 20, and that court date was cancelled and rescheduled for September 8 — just one day after he died. It is Santana’s understanding, however, that “a hold” was placed on Johnson while he was incarcerated.
Johnson’s calling hours will be held at 2 p.m. on September 25 at the Kevin B. Corneau Funeral Home at 486 Main Street in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The family set up a fundraiser via Facebook to help raise money for his burial.