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Rikers Island detainee dead of suspected drug overdose; 8th fatality in city Correction Department custody in 2023

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By; Thomas Tracy via NY Daily News

A 33-year-old Rikers Island inmate arrested for back-to-back stabbings in Queens last year was found dead in his cell early Tuesday — the eighth city Correction Department detainee to die in custody or shortly after release in 2023, officials said.

Donny Ubiera was found unconscious in his cell at Rikers’ George R. Vierno Center. He died at the scene, apparently from a drug overdose, law enforcement sources said.

The death is another blemish on the city’s attempts to fix up its jail system, which may be on the verge of a federal takeover. Four people died in the city jail system in July.

Ubiera had been at Rikers since he was arrested for assaulting two people in a pair of unprovoked stabbings along the No. 7 subway line in Queens on June 10, 2022, authorities said.

He served two terms in prison before last year’s arrest and was undergoing regular mental health screenings while in custody, according to court documents.

He was a methadone patient at Vierno, sources said.

A Correction Department spokeswoman confirmed the death and said Ubiera “received immediate medical care.”

“Next of kin has been notified,” the spokeswoman said. “All notifications have been made to the federal monitor [tracking violence in city jails], the state attorney general, the Department of Investigation, the Board of Correction, the state Commission of Correction and the office of the chief medical examiner.”

Ubiera was represented by the Legal Aid Society, which called Tuesday for a “sweeping investigation.”

“Rikers Island has claimed the life of another one of our clients,” the society said in a statement. “Mr. Ubiera’s family deserves immediate answers from [the Correction Department] and jail medical staff on the circumstances that led to his death. All too often, our clients’ loved ones are deprived of even the most basic information following the passing of a relative.”

Part of the investigation should entail if “correctional staff and supervisors were actively engaged in supervising the housing area and conducting required tours,” the Legal Aid Society said.

The federal monitor tracking violence in city lockups has found that correction officers’ and supervisors’ failure to closely observe detainees played a role in recent deaths.

The last inmate to die at Rikers was Curtis Davis, 44, who was found unconscious in his cell July 23, officials said.

Ubiera is the 27th person to die on Rikers since Mayor Adams took office in January 2022.

Finding the city’s efforts to curb violence and improve safety at Rikers and other city lockups “not enough” to create substantial improvements, Manhattan Federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain has set in motion a series of steps that could end with a federal takeover of the jail system.

At a court hearing Aug. 10, Swain ordered lawyers for detainees and the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office to file motions by Nov. 17 to hold the city in contempt of prior court orders and to make a case for a federal takeover.

“Under Mayor Adams’ watch the conditions have gone from bad to worse,” Luke Steele, the leader of the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice, said Tuesday. “It is upsetting and infuriating to learn that yet another life has been lost in New York City jails.

“These deaths could have been prevented,” he said. “People’s rights as human beings are being taken away the minute they step into Rikers.”

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