The family of a man who hanged himself inside a Manhattan, New York holding cell is suing the city in a new wrongful-death lawsuit after a prison officer was found to have been just paces away from the detainee while he put a drawstring around his neck.
Anthony Scott, 58, attempted suicide in October 2021 inside a Manhattan Central Booking cell, where he awaited transport to Rikers Island after getting arrested for assaulting a nurse at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia. Days later, he died.
A guard was directly across from Scott and behind his desk when the detainee jammed his cell lock to hang himself on October 14, according to a Board of Correction report.
“It is beyond explanation that an officer could sit mere feet from Mr. Scott and not do anything while he attempts to hang himself,” attorney David Rankin, who is representing the family, said in a Wednesday, January 11 statement.
“Had any of the department’s regulations been followed, Mr. Scott would be alive today. If the city can’t safely hold people, they should let them go.”
A city Law Department spokesman said the agency would review the case.
Video surveillance showed the officer had his back to the cell as Scott removed a drawstring from his clothes and started fiddling with it. Scott is then seen jamming the pen’s lock with strips of paper for three minutes, placing the string around his neck and laying on the floor, the BOC report states.
Around the same time Scott laid on the floor, all officers left the area completely, the report found.
Scott then tied the string to a fixture inside his cell and hanged himself, his family’s lawsuit states.
Over 20 minutes after the officers left, a guard and a captain arrived to find Scott on the floor of the pen and called for help.
About an hour after the incident, medics arrived and rendered aid to Scott, who was rushed to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Lower Manhattan and placed in intensive care. He died on October 18.
Scott’s family said he was on the autism spectrum and struggled with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. His mental and physical health had deteriorated in the seven months leading up to his death, and he struggled to get necessary medications, they said.
“Where is New York City? Why hasn’t anyone reached out and explained how this could happen? No apology — nothing,” Scott’s sister, Tammy Robinson, said in a statement. “We miss my brother so much, he was a loved and valued member of our family, how could they have let this happen?”
According to the BOC report, screening forms including a mandatory check of whether Scott was suicidal were not among the detainee’s records. Had he been identified as being at risk of suicide or self-harm, a supervisor would have been required to confiscate any belts, drawstrings, neckties or shoelaces.
The Department of Correction has suspended three officers following Scott’s suicide attempt, the report stated.