In May 2010, Kalief Browder, then 16, was stopped and arrested on a New York City street for reportedly stealing a backpack. Browder's family was unable to pay Browder's bail, and although no charges were filed against Browder, he spent some three years in the jail at Rikers Island. While locked away, he endured beatings from prisoners and guards. In total, he spent 800 days in solitary confinement. He was released in May 2013. He killed himself in June 2015.
On Thursday, Browder's family set the wheels in motion for a $20 million lawsuit after it filed "notice of intention to file a wrongful death suit" papers with the city's Comptroller's Office, the New York Daily News reports.
According to the Daily News, the papers charge that Browder was subjected to "systemic and agonizing physical and mental abuse … tantamount to torture," during his incarceration. The papers name the city Department of Correction, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and various city health agencies as being complicit in Browder's death.
In 2010, while in jail, Browder was involved in a brawl with some 10 gang members after one of the men spit on him.
Browder reportedly tried to commit suicide several times while in jail, and his family argues that he never received adequate help while inside. According to court documents filed by the family, in February 2012, after two attempts at suicide, Browder saw a psychiatrist, who placed him in solitary confinement. A month later, Browder attempted to hang himself, but he was cut loose by a correction officer and then reportedly beaten by the same officer, the Daily News reports.
When he was released in May 2013, the family claims, the damage to Browder was "irreparable" and "caused him to become suicidal." The family also says that it didn't receive adequate care from the state after Browder was released.
Browder was hospitalized in November 2013 after another failed suicide attempt, but the family says that the stay was short-term and that he didn't receive any long-term treatment for the "paranoia, depression and [post-traumatic stress disorder]" he developed as a result of his incarceration, the papers said, according to the Daily News.
In June, Browder told his mother that he was tired. "Ma, I can't take it anymore," he said. His mother, Venida, assured her son that he had a lot to live for and that he had tons of people who loved him.
Browder hanged himself later that same day. His death prompted national debate and changes in prison-reform policies to stop solitary confinement for youthful offenders.
"The reforms have provided some solace for his parents," lawyer Paul Prestia told the Daily News. "But it can’t bring their son back."
Read more at the New York Daily News.