By Kevin Deutsch
BRONXWOOD – The city agreed to pay $775,000 to the family of a Bronxwood man who hanged himself in a Bronx precinct holding cell, within feet of where the sergeant charged with watching prisoners was supposed to be stationed, newly released records show.
Samuel Reyes, 49, used a piece of drawstring to commit suicide in November 2015 after NYPD officers from the 49th Precinct arrested him on suspicion he’d been involved in two armed robberies. His family filed a wrongful death suit in Manhattan federal court the following year, alleging it took officers at the station house nearly half an hour to notice Reyes hanging from a bar in one of the holding cells – located 25 to 30 feet, and within plain sight, of the precinct’s front desk, records show.
The desk sergeant who was supposed to have been watching Reyes at the time was absent from his post when the hanging happened sometime around 6 p.m., the suit charged. Reyes, a father of one, was cut down from the bar and taken to Jacobi Medical Center.
Brain dead and motionless, he was shackled and handcuffed to a hospital bed for two days before he died, the suit alleged.
The sergeant who was supposed to be watching Reyes in the cell was placed on modified duty, but his name was not publicly released, records show.
Bronx Justice News found details of the 2017 settlement in CAPStat, a database launched by the Legal Aid Society Wednesday that contains thousands of records from NYPD police misconduct lawsuits and other filings.
The settlement was also confirmed by Jenny Marashi, one of the lawyers for Reyes’ family who worked on the case.
“The lack of transparency was one of the most difficult aspects of Mr. Reyes’ death in police custody,” Marashi said. “The investigators did not respond to his family. His family was left in the dark during and even after the investigation. Even with the lawsuit, we were not given access to any internal police disciplinary action.”
Jimmy Meyerson, another attorney for Reyes’ family, said the state’s 50-A law, which the city says shields all police disciplinary records from public review, should be changed in light of cases like Reyes.’
“The restrictive interpretation which NYPD adopts in its application of the state law regarding police officer personnel records has not allowed the family to know virtually anything about the actions…NYPD has taken in the matter other than a sergeant was placed on modified duty status at the time. That is simply intolerable as a matter of public policy.”
Meyerson added: “That right to know trumps any privacy interest if any that the public employee has.”
In response to a request for comment about the settlement, the NYPD sent Bronx Justice News a statement that reads: “The NYPD carefully analyzes civil lawsuits and evidence in them to assess the merits of cases. Not all lawsuits filed for money have legal merit. The ones that do can be valuable tools we use to improve officer performance and enhance training or policy where necessary.”