Lawyers for a robbery suspect who died in custody at Rikers Island called his death — the sixth in the troubled jail complex this year — “abhorrent” and demanded the city Corrections Department be held accountable.
A correction officer found William Johnstone, 47, unconscious in his cell bed Saturday afternoon while doing rounds in housing unit 4A at the George R. Vierno Center jail, sources familiar with the case said.
The officer opened the cell door, called for a medical emergency response and tried to revive Johnstone with three doses of Narcan — a spray used to reverse an opioid overdose — sources said.
A medical team arrived six minutes later and performed CPR on Johnstone, sources said. They also administered him two doses on an EpiPen, which is used to counter severe allergic reactions.
Medics took Johnstone to Mount Sinai Queens hospital, where he died about 3:50 pm, sources said.
“It is abhorrent that 25 New Yorkers have lost their lives in [Correction Department] custody since the beginning of 2022,” the Brooklyn Defender Services and New York County Defender Services said in a joint statement Sunday.
“We are angry and saddened that the Department of Correction’s failure to protect the health and safety of people in its custody has resulted in the death of yet another New Yorker, the third in the past three weeks,” they added.
Johnstone was being represented by the defender services in his Brooklyn and Manhattan robbery cases.
Records show he’d been in custody since March after being held on good in both cases.
His Manhattan arrest stemmed from a March 2 incident near Central Park in which prosecutors said he and an accomplice robbed a victim at knife point.
At the time of his arrest, he was free on several pending cases, including a June 2022 robbery in which prosecutors said he tried to steal an autistic child’s cell phone at knife point.
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He had a long criminal record, failed to appear in court at least eight times and had his parole revoked at least three times, prosecutors said at his arraignment.
Nineteen city detainees died in 2022, and 16 died in 2021.
“Despite the widely known dangerous and deadly conditions, prosecutors and judges continue to condemn people to Rikers Island pretrial on unaffordable bail, and NYC continues to criminalize poverty and mental illness,” the defender services said Sunday.
“Before another life is lost, every judge, every prosecutor, every elected official must take decisive action to reduce the jail population on Rikers Island.”
Last week, the federal monitor overseeing the city’s jails recommended that a Manhattan federal judge hold the city in contempt for failing to comply with court orders to combat violence.
In their recommendation to Federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain, federal monitor Steve Martin and deputy monitor Anna Friedberg concluded that the jails are in no better shape than they were eight years ago when the city agreed to court oversight, and that the city’s year-old “ action plan” to fix the jails has failed.
The monitoring team also signaled their possible support for the appointment of a federal receiver that would take control of some or all of the troubled Correction Department’s operations.