Neurologist Ricardo Cruciani was to be sentenced this Sept. 14 for rape, sexual assault and abuse. Instead, he is now the 11th person to die inside Rikers this year, found dead this past Tuesday at around 6:30 a.m. The 68-year-old was held at the jail’s Eric M. Taylor Center and convicted in July.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Cruciani’s passing,” said Department of Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina in a statement. “We will conduct a preliminary internal review to determine the circumstances surrounding his death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones.”

Cruciani’s victims were his patients at Beth Israel Medical Center—six women with complex pain diseases whose suffering the ex-Drexel University department chair leveraged for sexual acts. He forcibly kissed and groped them, prosecutors say. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, he hooked the survivors on opioids, prescribing them dangerously high doses of pain medication in exchange for sex. And left them with addictions, trauma and botched treatment to their existing, severe conditions. Cruciani faced up to life in prison. But he wasn’t sentenced to death. 

“These constant cases of people who may have ‘mattered’ in the eyes of the media represent thousands of people who aren’t seen everyday,” said Five Mualimm-Ak, executive director of Incarceration Nation Network. “[These] conditions that they see [are] just one example—this is what a normal poor New Yorker, who ends up in Rikers, [lives] the life of.

“I think ‘found dead’ is a hell of a statement when you’re in jail. Like how did they find you? You’re supposed to be accounted for, cared for.”

The Corrections Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), the union representing Rikers’ officers, blamed management. 

Rikers Island Credit: Doug Schneider Photo/iStock

“Typically, when an inmate enters our custody for the first time facing a serious high profile crime, they are put under suicide watch, which requires an additional officer to supervise that inmate,” said COBA President Benny Bosco in a statement. “The fact that this inmate wasn’t put under suicide watch raises serious questions.”

While Cruciani is officially the 11th death at Rikers in 2022, 28-year-old Antonio Bradley committed suicide in jail but briefly survived and received a compassionate release before dying three days later on June 18. So the city doesn’t include him in tallies. With or without the technicality, Cruciani is the only non-Black, brown or multiracial person to die in Rikers this year. And he’s also the only person to die in Rikers this year actually convicted of the crime he or she was held for, says VOCAL-NY Civil Rights Union leader Eileen Maher. 

“Everyone’s equal,” said Maher. “And they deserve to not be treated like that. They deserve to have their safety, which includes their medical health and mental health.”

City Council Member Tiffany Cabán, one of the jail’s most prominent critics, offered a scathing response to the news of Cruciani’s death. 

“Rikers Island is a hellhole,” said Cabán in an email. “I know. Not only have I represented hundreds upon hundreds of clients caged there, I represent it in the City Council. Neither incarcerated New Yorkers nor the jail’s staff are safe…we need a total reversal of our policy on the island: ban solitary confinement, decarcerate, shutter and demolish the jail, and invest in the health and stability of the communities to which our incarcerated neighbors return.”

Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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