New York City will pay $3.3 million to the family of Kalief Browder, a Bronx native whose unlawful imprisonment on Rikers Island became the subject of national headlines and a critically acclaimed documentary.
Browder, accused of stealing a backpack which contained cash and an iPod, was detained and held on Rikers Island for three years, with most of his time spent in solitary confinement. He was neither tried nor convicted. Two years after a lack of evidence forced his release, Browder committed suicide just outside his mother’s home. He was 22.
The settlement, revealed in a court document, has yet to be finalized, though Browder family lawyer Sanford Rubenstein told the New York Times that papers would soon be submitted to “finalize the resolution of this matter.”
In a statement, the New York City Law Department said, “Kalief Browder’s story helped inspire numerous reforms to the justice system to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again, including an end to punitive segregation for young people on Rikers Island.”
“We hope that this settlement and our continuing reforms help bring some measure of closure to the Browder family,” the statement continued.
After Browder’s release—but not before the sprawling New Yorker article which laid bare the miscarriage of justice at the hands of the city of New York—Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would end the use of solitary confinement for minors aged 16 and 17.
Last year, however, a Times investigation found that New York City had failed to keep its word. Since 2015, the number of teenage inmates transferred to correctional facilities upstate has increased, where they continue to be held in solitary confinement where the practice remains unrestricted.
Inmates maintain the transfers, which the Correction Department maintains are to ensure inmate safety, do not make them safer.
From the Times’ investigation:
Steven Espinal, 19, who prosecutors say led an attack in February that left a Rikers guard’s spine fractured, said guards stomped and kicked him so badly when he arrived that he lost hearing in his left ear and passed blood in his urine. He was hospitalized, then sentenced to 600 days in solitary confinement for violating jail rules, his lawyer said.
While they beat him, Mr. Espinal said in an interview, the guards kept saying, “This ain’t New York City. We do what we want.”
In 2017, an election year, de Blasio said he planned to close Rikers within the next decade. Akeem Browder, one of Kalief’s siblings, doubted de Blasio’s intent.
“… [T]he fact that it’s going to take 10 years when Mayor de Blasio won’t even be the mayor at the time—I got to think he’s only saying this because it’s election season,” Akeem told Vibe in 2017. “You can’t have an election season and the people are not being heard, so I think it’s a publicity stunt.”
The settlement will be finalized by New York Supreme Court Judge Mitchell Danziger.