Esias Johnson

Photo of Esias Johnson, a young black man with frizzy hair and large, dark-rimmed glasses on a wide nose. He is wearing a light cotton hoodie, and holding his chin in his hand in a contemplative manner.Name: Esias Johnson.
Died: September 7, 2021.
Age at death: 24.
Cause of death: Death in custody.
Location: New York City, New York, USA.

Esias was born one of six boys in his family. He was very good at schoolwork. In his free time, he volunteered at food pantries and at an organization that helps the blind, and tutored children after school. Esias loved to dance and sing; his favorite musicians were Whitney Houston, Cher, Prince, and Michael Jackson. When he came out as gay, his parents threw him a coming-out party; but the church where he worked as a youth leader expelled him.

As an adult, Esias moved to New York City, drawn by the lights and excitement and hoping for a music career. His mental illness worsened, and his social clumsiness made him come off as creepy to potential dates. He was arrested multiple times, though never convicted of a crime. He received occasional counseling, but no other help.

When he died, he had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge of menacing; police say he slapped a man on the butt on the subway and chased him into a bank with a syringe. $1 bail was all that stood between him and freedom. He tried to pay it with commissary money, and his family repeatedly tried to pay it; but jail staff continually failed to set up his court dates, and Esias stayed in jail.

His body was found in his cell at Rikers Island. Authorities say he must have died of a drug overdose–though toxicology results have yet to come in. Esias’s family believes he died from medical neglect at Rikers; they spoke to other inmates, who reported that Esias had been complaining of stomach pain and asking for medical attention for days, and had been ignored.

Three corrections officers have been suspended. Esias’s family has hired a lawyer to look into conditions at Rikers Island, where Esias became the 9th fatality of 2021.

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K. D.

Name: K. D.
Died: April 23, 2020.
Age at death: 30.
Cause of death: COVID.
Location: Forest Hills, Queens, New York City, New York, USA.

K. D. was a Filipino-American inmate at Rikers Island, having violated his probation for possession of child porn. Before he was imprisoned, he lived with his mother, father, and younger sister. He had autism, depression, and an anxiety disorder, as well as asthma, gout, and sleep apnea. In prison, he had to go into protective custody because, due to his charges, he was in danger of violence from other inmates. He was placed in a medical unit so that he could have access to his CPAP machine, a non-invasive ventilator that keeps sleep apnea patients breathing during the night.

K.D. began having symptoms of COVID and tested positive, but the 39-bed medical dorm he was housed in for the first six days after his diagnosis, and which was more than half full, was not a COVID ward. From this we can conclude that staff did not particularly care whether their prisoners spread COVID to one another.

Despite the fact that K.D. had asthma and sleep apnea staff took away his CPAP machine and would not give him nebulizer treatments. Their rationale was that these could spread COVID. (See above: They also put infected patients in the same ward with non-infected patients, making it doubtful that their main motivation was to slow the spread of COVID.)

K.D. had trouble getting the simplest of medical treatments, reporting to his mother that he couldn’t even get Tylenol for his fever. They also did not tell K.D. that he had COVID for two days after he was diagnosed. Only when he went into respiratory distress was he taken to Bellevue Hospital.

At Bellevue, K.D. was finally allowed his nebulizer treatments and CPAP, but his health declined steadily. He was able to talk to his mother on the phone, who began advocating for him to be granted compassionate release. But by the time a formal hearing was convened, K.D. was already on a ventilator and could not be moved. About two weeks later, he died from COVID at the age of 30.

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John Davenport

Davenport, JohnName: John David Davenport.
Died: September 13, 2018.
Age at death: 25.
Cause of death: Death in jail custody.
Location: Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA.

John lived in community housing with caregivers that came in every day to help him. Kenyon Savage, one of John’s aides, remembers John as “…being so happy and [having] so much joy for life.” John loved singing along to music, and his favorite television show was “Sesame Street”.

When he had a meltdown, however, another caregiver called the police for the second time in a week. Kenyon questions why the police were even called; he says that John was not a violent man; he might injure himself, but he would never fight anyone else except in self-defense.

Police arrested John for refusing to follow orders and spitting on officers when they began manhandling him. He was locked in a jail cell. When he had been in jail about two days, police say they simply found him lying on the floor with severe head injuries. He died the next day.

The cause of John’s head injuries is not yet known.

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