Black Father Endured 'Horrible Conditions' Before Dying At Rikers Island


Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Thomas Earl Braunson III was held in “horrible conditions” at the NYC Rikers Island jail before his death in April. 

According to THE CITY, Braunson, a 35-year-old new father, had been arrested for a parole violation in connection to a shoplifting case before he was found dead in his cell in the Eric M. Taylor Center of the notorious jail on April 19. He was the first of three men who died while in custody at Rikers since April. 

Documents obtained by the outlet the day after Braunson’s death showed two Board of Correction staff members and one board commissioner, Dr. Robert Cohen, visited the jail and found “severe staffing and supplies issues” with many people at the jail “missing sheets and blankets.” 

Many of the men at the jail were not getting meals or exercise on a regular basis and the corrections department officials found that no one in the visited area had a pillow.

“We discovered horrible conditions in the EMTC intake pens, where Mr. Braunson spent several days before his death,” the initial review said. 

Braunson was on parole after being arrested in 2018 for criminal possession of stolen property. He was later arrested in New Jersey in December 2020 and again in April and was extradited to Rikers to await an administrative hearing on his case at the time of his death. 

The internal report showed that after Braunson died “the men on the unit had to carry out his bloody mattress without gloves or equipment.”

According to the outlet, Braunson’s family is still awaiting answers in his death as the medical examiner has not determined a cause of death. They are seeking financial compensation from the city and filed a notice of claim last month. 

Three months before he died, Braunson’s high school sweetheart Trisha Alam gave birth to their daughter, Vinessa. 

“His world was changed,” an online obituary posted by Bailey’s Funeral Home reads. “Vinessa became the focus of all he said and did.” 

“He was going to come home and help with the baby,” Alam told THE CITY. “It’s just devastation. We just want to know what happened.” 

Richard Blake, 45, died at Rikers less than two weeks after Braunson, the outlet reported, and was also being detained for a parole violation. Jose Mejia Martinez, 34, was found dead on June 10 and was also being detained on a parole violation.

Criminal justice advocates have long called for the closure of Rikers Island. The Less Is More Act would overhaul the state's parole system and keep people out of jail for low-level offenses. According to THE CITY, the legislation was passed by the State Assembly but has yet to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264

The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082

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